Experts shocked by ‘extraordinary’ claim made by Post Office IT expert witness

A former Fujitsu engineer who gave evidence for the Post Office during trials of subpostmasters has made an “extraordinary” claim during questioning at the Post Office scandal public inquiry. 

Gareth Jenkins told the public inquiry that a reference to “the computer” in his previous witness statements to courts was widely misunderstood to be referring to the Horizon software.

A paragraph Jenkins provided to the court during the prosecution of subpostmasters, including North Wales-based subpostmaster Noel Thomas, in 2006 read: “There is no reason to believe that the information in this statement is inaccurate because of the improper use of the computer. To the best of my knowledge and belief at all material times, the computer was operating properly, or if not, any respect in which it was not operating properly, or was out of operation, was not such as to affect the information held on it. I hold a responsible position in relation to the working of the computer.”

Although it was his witness statement, Jenkins said the paragraph was a standard statement from Fujitsu. It mirrors rules around the use of computer evidence set out in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, which was repealed in 2000.

In his recent witness statement to the inquiry, Jenkins wrote that the paragraph in question has been misunderstood as referring to the Horizon system, when he was describing the computer used to write the statement.

“As I understand it, some witnesses to the inquiry have suggested that these paragraphs were supposed to show (or were interpreted to mean) that Horizon was working properly at a given branch or even that Horizon was working properly across the whole estate. This is not what I thought these paragraphs were intended to mean,” Jenkins wrote in his witness statement to the public inquiry.

“I think my understanding was that [this] related to the proper operation of the computers involved in the production of the witness statement.”

During the inquiry hearing, Jason Beer KC asked about the statement: “Really? You’re saying your desktop was working properly?” Jenkins confirmed this to be the case.

Beer put to Jenkins that “the computer” was intended to refer to a computer in the wider sense. He asked: “It refers to Horizon, doesn’t it?”

Jenkins, who was acting as an expert IT witness when he gave his original statement, said: “I don’t think I was in a position to say that Horizon was working correctly at the time, as far as this was concerned.”

Former subpostmaster Tim McCormack, who also worked in financial services IT, said: “It was a very strange explanation and surely he knew it was unbelievable.

Steven Murdoch, professor of security engineering in the computer science department at University College London, said he found the discussion at the inquiry “quite extraordinary”.

“A straightforward reading of the standard paragraph is that when it says ‘no reason to believe that the information in this statement is inaccurate’ it means whether the statement accurately [described] what happened in a Post Office branch,” he said.

The Post Office scandal was first exposed by Computer Weekly in 2009, revealing the stories of seven subpostmasters – including Alan Bates – and the problems they suffered due to accounting software. It’s one of the biggest miscarriages of justice in British history (see below for timeline of Computer Weekly articles about the scandal, since 2009).

• Also read: What you need to know about the Horizon scandal •

• Also watch: ITV’s documentary – Mr Bates vs The Post Office: The real story •

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