Former Fujitsu engineer says Post Office wanted harsher witness statement

A former senior Fujitsu engineer has said Post Office lawyers wanted to change his witness statement for a trial to wrongly implicate a subpostmaster.

Gareth Jenkins also claimed the Post Office were “trying to put words into my mouth” when disclosing issues with the Horizon IT system.

Mr Jenkins worked at Fujitsu, formerly known as International Computer Limited, for the whole of his professional career before retiring in 2015, and had been a “distinguished engineer” since the mid-1990s.

Post Office Horizon IT scandal
Gareth Jenkins’ evidence was used in the prosecution of former sub-postmistress Seema Misra (Jordan Pettitt/PA)

His evidence about the Horizon system was used in the prosecutions of many subpostmasters including Seema Misra, who received a 15-month prison sentence while eight weeks pregnant in November 2010.

Previous witnesses to the inquiry have claimed Mr Jenkins may have committed perjury due to his failure to disclose knowledge of bugs in the Horizon system to the subpostmasters.

In his third witness statement for the inquiry, Mr Jenkins claimed Post Office lawyer Warwick Tatford had looked over a draft of his witness statement for Mrs Misra’s trial and recommended he “make some points more strongly in favour of the Post Office”.

This included that Mr Tatford “wanted me to say it looked as though Mrs Misra had stolen money rather it was incompetence,” Mr Jenkins wrote.

Asked by inquiry counsel Jason Beer KC what he made of the proposed changes, Mr Jenkins said he assumed it was “normal practice” as he had no comparable experience, but added it had made him feel “uncomfortable”.

Put to him by Mr Beer that he had a number of opportunities to see if the Post Office was tweaking his evidence for its own interest by the end of Mrs Misra’s trial, Mr Jenkins told the inquiry: “Having looked back at things now, I can understand that may have been happening, but at the time I thought everything that was happening was just a legitimate tidying up of statements to make them more readable.”

In the same witness statement, Mr Jenkins made personal written apologies to some of the subpostmasters and said he was “truly sorry” for Mrs Misra’s wrongful conviction.

He said: “I would like to make clear that I feel deeply affected by the cases I played a part in. I have wanted to explain my part in them.

“I have apologised to those individuals who were wrongly convicted in the case studies I have addressed and I repeat again how sorry I am.”

Speaking after Monday’s hearing, Mrs Misra told the PA news agency the evidence was “shocking” and had made her “more and more angry”.

She said: “I was hoping to see why he did what he did. I don’t think I’m going to get the right answers, (but) let’s see what the other three days bring.”

Mrs Misra added she found it “strange” that Mr Jenkins still believed Horizon was working properly, and that the evidence “brings back everything” emotionally from her sentencing.

An email sent by Mr Jenkins in April 2001 was shown to the inquiry in which he outlined certain bugs that were affecting the Horizon system and said “many of them can be ‘lived with'”.

Asked by Mr Beer if he and Fujitsu were happy to live with issues, Mr Jenkins said a “bug-by-bug evaluation” was made to assess their impact.

Mr Jenkins had earlier said the Post Office made a series of direct approaches to him with “odd requests out of the blue”.

Asked by Mr Beer if he felt under pressure from the Post Office or their lawyers to refute any suggestions there were issues with Horizon, he said: “There were certainly cases where they were trying to put words into my mouth.”

Asked how he felt about it, Mr Jenkins told the inquiry: “I just took it as being the way these things happened.

“I wouldn’t allow them to put words in my mouth unless I agreed with them.”

The inquiry heard Mr Jenkins worked on Horizon Online for Fujitsu from around 2008 onwards.

Mr Jenkins said he did not accept the finding of the Horizon Issues judgment in December 2019 that Horizon was not remotely robust, as he felt the system was “working well”, and denied he was the “chief architect” of the system.

He told the inquiry he never had any oversight of all bugs, errors or defects within the system as the “relevant person” would be allocated defects through a database.

Asked by Mr Beer why the Post Office turned to him specifically as a witness in criminal prosecutions, Mr Jenkins said: “I think it was felt that I was in a good position of turning some of the technical jargon into something that lay people could understand better.”

Asked if it occurred to him he should find out more about the cases not referred to him when representing the Post Office in court, he told the inquiry: “As I’ve said before I was confident, and possibly wrongly so, that when problems did occur, they were quickly fixed.

“I’d have to say that with hindsight, I would have done things differently.”

Mr Jenkins added: “I was primarily looking at what was happening in a particular branch at a particular time.

“I didn’t see the giving of evidence as being any different from what I was doing in my day-to-day support.”

More than 700 subpostmasters were handed criminal convictions between 1999 and 2015 when errors in the Post Office’s Horizon IT system meant money appeared to be missing from many branch accounts when, in fact, it was not.

It has been branded the biggest miscarriage of justice in British legal history.

Mr Jenkins is due to give evidence for four consecutive days up to Friday, the longest run of questions any witness has faced so far.

The inquiry continues.