Duncan Tait via Inchcape websiteDuncan Tait via Inchcape website


Inchcape boss apologises as he admits being Fujitsu exec who made ‘Fort Knox’ claim at heart of Post Office scandal

  • Inchcape CEO named as Fujitsu official who likened faulty Horizon computer system to Fort Knox
  • National report says Duncan Tait made assurance to former Post Office CEO Paula Vennells
  • Tait admits Fort Knox comparison but says it was made in relation to ‘cyber and physical security’
  • Businessman also apologises for ‘any role that Fujitsu played’
  • Comment formed major part of Post Office’s defence during previous grilling of Vennells by MPs

Time 11:00 am, January 23, 2024

Inchcape CEO Duncan Tait has said sorry after admitting being the top Fujitsu official who compared the faulty Horizon computer system to Fort Knox during a conversation with Post Office bosses.

It follows speculation that the 57-year-old, who was chief executive of Fujitsu UK at the height of the Post Office scandal between 2011 and 2014, had given the assurance about the strength of the software’s security.

Tait has been boss of Inchcape Group since 2020 and has now found himself at the centre of the controversy, with The Times linking him to the highly controversial comment, which has formed a major part of the Post Office’s defence in recent years.

In a statement to Car Dealer this morning (Jan 23), Tait admitted for the first time that he DID refer to Fort Knox during a conversation with then Post Office boss Paula Vennells.

However, he insists that the phrase was only used in relation to the ‘cyber and physical security of Horizon’ and not remote access.

He also apologised for the first time for ‘any role that Fujitsu played’, after previously declining to say sorry in a statement to The Guardian last week.

He said: ‘As I have said before, I am appalled by the harsh treatment of the sub-postmasters and postmistresses.

‘As the public inquiry is already aware, I did refer to Fort Knox in a conversation with Paula Vennells – this was in relation to the cyber and physical security of Horizon and was unrelated to the remote access issue.

‘I fully support the inquiry and it would be inappropriate for me to comment further ahead of giving my evidence.

‘This has been a terrible miscarriage of justice, and like others at Fujitsu, I am sorry for the damage that has been done to the sub-postmasters and postmistresses’ lives and any role that Fujitsu played in that.’

The comments raise significant questions over evidence which Vennells, who recently handed back her CBE, gave to a business select committee in 2020.

At that time, Vennells claimed she was told that branch accounts couldn’t be changed without the knowledge of postmasters.

She also said that a top Fujitsu official had assured her the system was ‘like Fort Knox’ and couldn’t be compromised. At the time, she didn’t say who that official was, but she had come under mounting pressure recently to reveal the identity

Speaking four years ago, Vennells, who recently handed back her CBE, said:  ‘I remember being told by Fujitsu’s then CEO when I raised it with him that the system was like Fort Knox.

‘He had been a trusted outsource partner and had the reputation of a highly competent technology sector CEO. His word was important to me.’

As reported by Car Dealer last Wednesday, The Times said last week that the ex-CEOs from when Vennells was believed to be referring to had been contacted about it.

Tait’s successor at Fujitsu, Michael Keegan, denied making the Fort Knox comment, and his predecessor has now admitted responsibility for it.

Former post office workers celebrate outside the Royal Courts of Justice, London, after having their convictions overturned by the Court of Appeal in 2021 (Yui Mok_PA)

Former post office workers celebrate outside the Royal Courts of Justice after having their convictions overturned by the Court of Appeal in 2021 (Image: Yui Mok/PA)

Earlier, Labour MP and campaigner Kevan Jones called on Tait to be transparent about his role.

He was quoted as saying: ‘It was welcome on Friday that current management of Fujitsu were prepared to be open and honest about their role in this scandal [while giving evidence to a public inquiry].

‘Those in charge at the time now need to come forward and explain exactly what their role was and what they knew, including Mr Tait.’

Last week, we reported that Tait was understood to have received £2.6m as ‘compensation for loss of office’ after standing down in 2019.

He was head of the Japanese global technology services company in the UK from October 2009 to July 2019, according to his LinkedIn profile.

He headed its UK & Ireland division from 2011 to 2014, then became senior executive vice-president and head of the Americas and EMEIA (Europe, the Middle East India and Africa) arm until he quit, having joined the Fujitsu board in 2015 – the first non-Japanese person to do so.

In what is seen as the UK’s biggest miscarriage of justice, thousands of subpostmasters and subpostmistresses were wrongly accused or convicted of fraud or theft between 1999 and 2015 because of the faulty Horizon software supplied by Fujitsu.

Some of them were jailed and many were ruined financially, while others even reportedly took their own lives as a result of the stress.

A public inquiry was established in non-statutory form on September 29, 2020 and became a statutory inquiry on June 1, 2021.

Phase 1 – hearings about the human impact – took place between February and May 2022, and the inquiry has continued ever since.

The current phase is expected to end on February 2, with the final phases – redress, governance and recommendations – scheduled for this spring/summer and publication of the inquiry’s findings due late next year.

Jack Williams's avatar

Jack joined the Car Dealer team in 2021 as a staff writer. He previously worked as a national newspaper journalist for BNPS Press Agency. He has provided news and motoring stories for a number of national publications including The Sun, The Times and The Daily Mirror.

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