They knew all along Horizon wouldn’t work
Easily the most important, highly skilled and articulate technical witness gave evidence at the inquiry yesterday – Dave McDonnell, co-author of the internal Fujitsu/ICL report which laid bare the deficiencies in the Horizon EPOS (Electronic Point of Sale) system before its rollout, was very much worth the trip to London.
McDonnell was Deputy Development Manager on the Horizon project, hired by Chris Humphries at Fujitsu/ICL who had growing fears about the Horizon Development Manager’s ability to do the job.
McDonnell examined the Horizon EPOS system (the Horizon in-branch front end) and quickly worked out that neither the code or nearly half the eight-strong coding team were up to scratch.
He explained his position to the inquiry, at times, in granular technical detail, but it was always with enough clarity and colour to make a non-techie hack like me understand what he was going on about.
The 1998 Fujitsu/ICL Task Force Report
In October 1998 McDonnell co-wrote his Task Force report with Jan Holmes, a Fujitsu/ICL internal auditor (and a very interesting witness yesterday afternoon).
This was the report which concluded from one example: ‘Whoever wrote this code clearly has no understanding of elementary mathematics or the most basic rules of programming.’
You can listen to the highlights of McDonnell’s evidence on Episode 22 of Investigating the Post Office Scandal (which includes clips from the last four witnesses), you can read my blog post here, or you can watch the entire evidence session on video and read along with the full transcript, by clicking on the inquiry website here.
To give you a flavour of what you can hear/read, McDonnell describes the EPOS programming team as like ‘the Wild West’. When asked what he meant, he replied: ‘There were no standards in place, there were no design documents. The culture of the development team was – I wouldn’t say it was a holiday camp, but it was free format. There was no structure, no discipline; it was crazy, never seen anything like it.’
Of the Horizon code itself, he said: ‘it was so bad. It was beyond anything I’ve ever seen. Even in the 25/30 years since that project, I’ve never seen anything like that before. Some of the stuff that we found buried in the code was unbelievable. There was unreachable code… It was a mess.’
Karl Flinders from Computer Weekly has written up McDonnell’s evidence, too. Incidentally if you want to browse the first Task Force report itself, you can read it here.
Horizon Scandal Fund – Patron news
Now – a wee Secret Email exclusive. Lord Arbuthnot will today be formally announced as the patron of the Horizon Scandal Fund. As James Arbuthnot MP he was instrumental in helping Alan Bates and his fellow Subpostmasters get their voices heard in the corridors of power, and he has continued to campaign on their behalf from the House of Lords.
James has also been a wonderful supporter of my work down the years – helping me understand parliamentary procedure, always making himself available for interviews, responding promptly to quote requests (mana from heaven for journalists) and taking the time give me useful insight into the story whenever I have picked up the phone or dropped him a line. He’s done this all because he genuinely cares about the Subpostmasters and the horrendous stories he has heard, and he has spent years of his life doing his utmost to give their case the exposure it has needed.
Lord Arbuthnot has never sought any credit for the work he has done, but he deserves a great deal, and I am deeply honoured he has agreed to help raise the Horizon Scandal Fund’s profile by becoming its patron.
You can hear a wide-ranging interview Rebecca Thomson and I conducted with Lord Arbuthnot for our podcast here.
SECRET CODE for SECRET EMAILERS
Just a reminder that the paperback version of The Great Post Office Scandal (cover below) is out now. It’s only £13.99 and has two new chapters – it is a very high quality product and I am sure it would make an excellent stocking filler or doorstop for a friend or relative.
Bath Publishing have very kindly agreed to extend the free P&P offer for secret emailers (and their friends) all the way up till Christmas. All you have to do is click on this link, and then when it comes to checkout, add the following in the discount code box:
That’s it! The book cost comes down to £9.99 and then the P&P is added, taking it back up to £13.99, which is the same as free P&P. I hope that makes sense. Feel free to share this code with trusted friends, but please don’t publish it on social media or anything – it is just for secret emailers, who I hope can keep a secret!
Norwich – 21 Noember
My last talk of this year about the Post Office Scandal will be at the Norwich Playhouse on Monday 21 November. As mentioned in the last email, we will be joined on stage by the wonderful Ian Warren, a Subpostmaster whose conviction has now been quashed. Quite a few people are coming along, but this is a big theatre! If you live nearby (or know someone who does) you can buy tickets using this link:
As we’re approaching Panto season, I ought to tell you that the production company who have been looking after most of my talks this year also do a wonderful Pantomime at the Leatherhead Theatre. My friend Tom Beard has been writing, directing and performing in this production for the last seven years and he’s grown it into something really special.
Tom took a punt on the Post Office story because I’d been wanging on about it for so long, he saw how important it was and wanted to help out. He tells me he has just about broken even on the entire venture, but I think that means a modest loss, knowing him. I know he hasn’t paid himself a bean.
So if you have kids of Panto age, fancy watching Snow White this year and live anywhere near Leatherhead, please help Tom out and buy a ticket:
Tom is the idiot in the jester’s hat in that link above. Tom is also is a brilliant writer, director and performer who can deliver a traditional panto whilst also making it work on all the right levels for the teenagers, parents and grandparents in attendance. Oh no he can’t etc
We’ll be there on the 21st Dec, with my parents and teenage kids, lapping it up, even tho we’re old enough to know better. Help Tom sell out his run so he can persuade his business partners to do more Post Office serious theatre stuff in future, alongside his bread and butter…
Thanks to everyone who has emailed in with very kind messages recently and your thoughts on the inquiry. I have even commissioned a blog post from a secret emailer which I hope to find the time to put up soon. Please accept my apologies if I can’t reply to every message, but I do read them all and I do appreciate them.
Back next week, no doubt.