By Muvija M and Paul Sandle
LONDON (Reuters) -Fujitsu, the Japanese IT group at the heart of Britain’s Post Office scandal, had an ethical duty to compensate its victims, its European head said on Tuesday.
“I think there is a moral obligation for the company to contribute and I think the right place to determine that is when our responsibility is very clear,” Paul Patterson told a parliamentary hearing on the scandal.
“There are many parties involved in this travesty,” he added, reiterating an apology to those wrongly prosecuted after bugs in its Horizon software incorrectly showed money missing from accounts.
Hundreds of Post Office workers were wrongly convicted between 1999 and 2015 for fraud, theft and false accounting, in what Prime Minister Rishi Sunak called one of the country’s biggest miscarriages of justice.
A public inquiry into the scandal at the state-owned institution, which has more than 11,500 branches, is ongoing.
The Post Office’s current boss, Nick Read, told the hearing that during the scandal prosecutions were running at 55-75 a year.
“It is an absolutely extraordinary number,” he said, adding that a lack of curiosity within the Post Office to ask “Why is this the case, what is going on?” remained a mystery.
His predecessor Paula Vennells gave up her CBE honour last week after a British television drama about the scandal ignited public fury.
Alan Bates, the former sub-postmaster featured in ITV’s Mr Bates vs The Post Office, said victims had waited “far too long” for redress.
“People are suffering, they are dying, we’re losing numbers along the way,” he told the lawmakers.
Jo Hamilton, a sub-postmistress and one of the victims who was also featured in the drama, said the plan to mass exonerate those convicted was not perfect but it was the only way to speed up a resolution.
She said the new knowledge that money she was forced to pay back to the Post Office had swelled its profits, leading to executive bonuses, was “sickening”.
“We were shouting so loud at one point and everything was known and yet our money was just being played with.”
(Reporting by Paul Sandle and Muvija M; editing by William James and Sharon Singleton)