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Fujitsu manager described post office operator as ‘nasty chap’, inquiry hears

A Fujitsu manager described Lee Castleton, whose bankruptcy over missing Post Office funds featured in a recent television drama, as a “nasty chap” in an email urging a colleague to be strong in court, a public inquiry has heard.

Before a hearing in December 2006 in the high court in central London, where the Post Office was pursuing Castleton for a £25,000 shortage recorded by a Fujitsu accounting system, Peter Sewell contacted one of his team, Andy Dunks, who was due to give evidence.

“See you in court then,” wrote Sewell, who was a lead Fujitsu security manager. “Fetters Lane is where they used to hang people out to dry. I don’t suppose that type of thing happens any more though.

“That Castleton is a nasty chap and will be all out to rubbish the FJ name. It’s up to you to maintain absolute strength and integrity no matter what the prosecution throw at you. We will all be behind you hoping you come through unscathed. Bless you.”

Dunks responded: “Thank you for those very kind and encouraging words. I had to pause half way through reading it to wipe away a small tear.”

Castleton who was played by Will Mellor in the ITV drama Mr Bates vs The Post Office, was being taken to court by the Post Office after the Horizon system, built by Fujitsu, falsely made it appear as though funds were missing from his outlet in Bridlington, East Yorkshire.

He had been refusing to pay the money on the basis that he had not done anything wrong, but the high court ordered Castleton in 2007 to repay the funds and cover £321,000 in legal costs, leading to his bankruptcy.

Asked on Thursday why he had been “egging on” his team member in such terms, Sewell, who knew as early as 2003 about complaints about the Horizon system, told the public inquiry into the scandal: “I don’t know why I wrote it, I apologise.”

Responding to the email chain, Castleton, 56, said he had never met Sewell or Dunks.

He said: “I only found out about the email about 20 minutes ago, when a barrister sent me a screenshot.

“I don’t know either of the people mentioned in the email – and I would have thought you would need to meet someone to make a judgment like that.

“Let’s face it, we know exactly what kind of people we are dealing with, it’s a group of people who tried to ruin me, so in that sense it doesn’t surprise me.

“Hanging me out to dry? That is exactly what they did to me and that is the ethos of both companies [Fujitsu and Post Office].”

Earlier in the day Fujitsu, which makes more than £100m a year from government work, wrote to the government to say it would not bid for further Whitehall contracts while the inquiry, led by the retired high court judge Sir Wyn Williams, continued.

Alex Burgart, a Cabinet Office minister, told the Commons: “This morning [the] Cabinet Office received a letter from Fujitsu voluntarily undertaking not to bid for government contracts whilst the inquiry is ongoing, unless of course the government ask them to.”

The government has begun discussions with Fujitsu on its potential contribution to compensating wrongfully convicted post office operators.

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David Davis, the Conservative former cabinet minister, called on companies such as Fujitsu to be blocked from bidding for future government contracts on the basis of having “terrible track records”.

Burghart said: “There are clearly defined circumstances in which the government can exclude companies from bidding for contracts.”

The Post Office inquiry heard on Thursday that Fujitsu knew from 2008 that its witness statements relating to prosecutions of post office operators were not accurate.

Changes to the computing system were ruled out due to cost and lack of resources.

An internal report dated 2009 suggested that Fujitsu’s reputation was among the issues the company was taking into account as the truth emerged about the “endemic” problems.

After the problems were broached with the Post Office later in 2009, it rejected a suggestion that one witness statement due to be heard in court be rewritten to refer to at least one of the incidents where faulty records had been produced by the system.

“Why inform anyone about a problem we’ve had within the network but possibly only at one branch, if it bears no relation or relevance?” wrote David Possnett, a Post Office investigator.

Prosecutions only came to an end in 2014. The UK government is legislating to exonerate all 900 people in England and Wales convicted on the basis of Horizon evidence. On Thursday, Scotland’s first minister, Humza Yousaf, said his government was working on its own legislation to exonerate those wrongly convicted.