A former minister has informed a public inquiry into the Post Office Horizon scandal that the contract for the defective software program was “fatally flawed”.
Stephen Byers stated he was not conscious prosecutions of sub-postmasters have been utilizing proof from Horizon when he was accountable for the Post Office.
More than 700 department managers got prison convictions for stealing firm cash.
It has been referred to as probably the most widespread miscarriage of justice in UK historical past.
Sub-postmasters have been falsely accused of theft and false accounting primarily based on info from the not too long ago put in laptop system, Horizon, which was later discovered to have flaws.
Dozens of convictions have since been overturned and lots of sub-postmasters are in line for compensation.
Mr Byers, who was Secretary of State on the Department for Trade and Industry between December 1998 and June 2001, is the primary former authorities minister to present proof to the inquiry.
He described the therapy of sub-postmasters as “shocking”.
“I would like to offer my sincere regrets for what has occurred and to say sorry for the hurt suffered by those involved. We must do all we can to ensure this never happens again,” he stated.
The inquiry additionally heard there have been “significant disagreements” between the Labour authorities’s departments concerned in Horizon’s future, which initially included the event of a brand new profit fee card for the Department for Social Security.
He was additionally requested if he had been conscious of any of the considerations raised within the procurement and tendering course of for the venture.
He stated there was a protocol the place members of a brand new authorities weren’t in a position to see paperwork or papers offered to the earlier administration, so this meant he and his fellow ministers weren’t in a position to see any particulars of the tendering course of or any difficulties already skilled with Horizon.
“It was all denied to us… it was a veil we couldn’t lift,” he stated.
Mr Byers recommended cancelling the contract with Fujitsu, the Japanese agency that developed the Horizon software program, would have resulted in large losses and there was additionally concern in regards to the impact on overseas funding.
In his witness assertion, he famous that it had been made “very clear” that cancelling would have main repercussions for the UK’s relationship, not solely with Fujitsu, an enormous investor on the time, but in addition with different Japanese multinationals like Nissan and Toyota who operated UK automobile vegetation.
But when requested about this level, Mr Byers replied: “Too much could be made of that.”
He additionally stated that automation of the Post Office community was seen as important to its future and that it might have been essential to develop an analogous programme, which may have taken a number of years and price much more cash.
Cancelling Horizon would have had a “devastating impact”, he recommended, including: “We had to make the most of a very difficult situation which is what I think we tried to do.”
The authorities, he stated, had insisted on reside trials of Horizon to make sure the system labored and that procedures had been put in place to ensure ministers have been alerted if any issues arose.
Mr Byers stated he didn’t recall any important considerations about technical points with Horizon being flagged in the course of the the rest of his time as secretary of state.
In written proof heard by the inquiry on Thursday, former Prime Minister Tony Blair stated that whereas he had “very limited recollection” of the occasions round that point, he did keep in mind some considerations have been raised about Horizon’s reliability.
“I recall making clear that if the problems with the project related solely to commercial aspects then I was content to continue to work to try to find a way forward, but if there were concerns about product reliability then we should not. I recall that I subsequently received the necessary reassurances as to reliability,” he wrote.
He was additionally requested about what he understood on the time to be the important thing classes discovered from the scandal.
“I have learned that it is crucial to obtain advice from experts with deep experience in the field who can provide the necessary assurance. As I have explained, I sought and obtained assurances as to the reliability of the product being developed.
“It is now clear that the Horizon product was critically flawed, resulting in tragic and utterly unacceptable penalties, and I’ve deep sympathy for these affected.”
The second phase of the public inquiry, looking at the pilot, design and roll-out of Horizon, will continue until 2 December.