UpFront February 2024

Somewhere in the late seventies I applied for a job as a trainee computer programmer with ICL in Bracknell. I can’t say I remember the rejection in any detail but I’d like to say I was politely informed that I didn’t have the right aptitude for the job. As a friend of mine at the time had already got onto the trainee initiative, I was a little disappointed. But in time I understood that it takes a certain kind of brain to write code and mine just wasn’t up to it. Listening again to the testimony of David McDonnell at the Post Office Public Enquiry, I can’t help thinking ‘there but for the grace of God…’. David McDonnell was hired in 1998 to help fix problems with the Electronic Point of Sale System (EPOS) that became what we know today as Horizon, the software system at the centre of the Post Office scandal. In his testimony and statement he described ‘poor coding standards, no methodology in place and no unit testing.’ He said ‘the issues were critical, making the product unstable’ and that this was known to everyone in the building. According to Mr McDonnell, it was a companywide well known fact that there were several thousand outstanding bugs in the EPOS system. ‘The team was the joke of the building’ he said and suggested that this was known up to the highest level, including Fujitsu Japan ‘because they sent over 3 coders to perform an audit.’ Fujitsu had recently become the major shareholder in the company and ICL was rebranded as Fujitsu in 2002. Talking with journalist Nick Wallis for an article in this issue, and seeing the depth of the cover up I find it hard to fathom the sheer greed of management that insisted on building a computer system on top of a faulty structure. It’s like building a concrete tower block on top of a wooden structure riddled with woodworm.