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Questions to be answered over Tory donor’s involvement in Horizon scandal

Evidence from the Post Office inquiry suggests Simon Blagden – formerly of Fujitsu and now in a government quango role – had greater involvement than previously realised in the notorious IT scandal that blamed subpostmasters for crimes they did not commit, writes SOLOMON HUGHES

EVIDENCE at the Post Office inquiry uncovered by Private Eye magazine links a top Tory donor to the Horizon scandal.

The inquiry is investigating how the Post Office persecuted subpostmasters for thefts they did not commit. The Post Office bought a computer system called Horizon that was used in the branches from IT giant Fujitsu. 

The Horizon system records on sales were inaccurate, but instead of blaming the system, the Post Office blamed the subpostmasters, prosecuting them — resulting in jail sentences — in what is one of Britain’s biggest injustice scandals.

The Horizon-based persecution rolled over subpostmasters from 1999-2015, until their campaign and court battles started turning things around. 

Simon Blagden was a director of Fujitsu in Britain from 2005-19. He was also a major Tory donor. Blagden’s personal family companies gave £376,000 to the Conservatives. In return for his donations Blagden attended “Leaders’ Group” meals with Theresa May, Boris Johnson and others, and hosted events at Tory conference.

In 2022 Nadine Dorries, then digital secretary, made Blagden the chair of Building Digital UK, the quango promoting greater broadband availability. Blagden is paid £80,000 a year from the public purse for this government job.

Given Fujitsu’s involvement in the Horizon scandal, the government has been asked if Blagden was also involved.

The Department for Science, Innovation and Technology said in January that Blagden had been “in no way involved” with the Post Office scandal. 

Blagden was a director of Fujitsu’s telecoms arm in Britain, so the argument is this means he was not linked to Horizon, which was from a different branch of Fujitsu. However, in official documents Blagden is also described as “non-executive chairman — Fujitsu Europe,” suggesting a wider role.

Now evidence picked up by Private Eye magazine (but apparently not yet grasped by the newspapers) points to his involvement with Horizon.  

Paula Vennells was the chief executive officer of Post Office Limited from 2012 to 2019, and is seen to bear much responsibility for persecuting the subpostmasters.

Vennells says in her first witness statement (dated March 8 2024) that Blagden was actually one of her main Fujitsu contacts. 

She says: “From recollection, the only individuals from Fujitsu that I spoke to, certainly with any regularity, were Duncan Tait [the chief executive officer of Fujitsu Europe] and Simon Blagden [the chairman of Fujitsu Europe]. 

“Our discussions were, generally, high-level discussions about the commercial relationship between POL [Post Office Ltd] and Fujitsu, and operational issues that had been escalated to me within POL.”

According to Vennells, Blagden gave her reassurance — what we now know to be false reassurance — that Horizon had no major faults.

Vennells says old emails she looked at “accord with my recollection that both Simon Blagden and Duncan Tait assured me that the Horizon system was safe and secure and not at fault” and that “neither Simon Blagden nor Duncan Tait told me that Fujitsu knew that Horizon contained a large number of bugs.”

Vennells goes on to say “one of the issues we discussed was the Second Sight investigation, including the allegations made by SPMs [subpostmasters] that Horizon was at fault.”

Second Sight was a firm of fraud investigators brought in by the Post Office to see if there was an issue with Fujitsu’s Horizon system from 2012 on.

Second Sight says that Vennells and other Post Office bosses obstructed their investigation. Had it been allowed to run properly, it could have exonerated the subpostmasters.

Vennells’s witness statement also includes an email from her to Blagden on July 25 2013 about the review into Horizon by Second Sight.

She tells Blagden in the email: “We are planning carefully how we bring the independent review to completion: it needs to progress at pace but not so quickly that we fail to close it down.” 

This seems to suggest Vennells discussed with Blagden the need to “close down” the review into Horizon. Had the review been allowed to run properly, the subpostmasters would have been cleared in 2013-2015.  

Second Sight told the inquiry that the Post Office was obstructive about its review and this was a “cover-up.” There is a suggestion here that Vennells and Blagden were discussing how to close down the Second Sight inquiry. Vennells says that is not what the email means.

There is other evidence of Blagden’s involvement in the inquiry.

Adam Crozier, who was chief executive officer of Royal Mail Group from 2003 to 2010, says he was “was not aware of the tragic situation for Post Office subpostmasters” during his time at Royal Mail.

He has been criticised for his apparent ignorance. But even with his claimed lack of awareness of the Horizon scandal, Crozier does remember Blagden. He says his “involvement with individuals at Fujitsu was very limited,” but he does “recall meeting Simon Blagden (non-executive chairman at Fujitsu) on one occasion for a relationship-building meeting.” 

Blagden is the only Fujitsu man Crozier names.

I asked the Department for Science, Information and Technology whether this evidence showed Blagden was involved in the Horizon scandal. I asked them if, given this evidence, Blagden could remain as chair of the government’s Building Digital UK. It acknowledged my query, but made no response.

Blagden is not currently being called to the inquiry, and apart from Private Eye magazine, no other media appear to have picked up the new evidence from the Post Office inquiry suggesting his involvement.

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