Nick Wallis’s book “The Great Post Office Scandal” should be compulsory reading for anyone setting out on a career as a software developer, tester, risk manager or internal auditor – or indeed anyone starting to study the law. The author sets out, in exhaustive detail, the story of how the Post Office’s Horizon system, developed by Fujitsu, and managed appallingly by both corporations ruined thousands of lives.
Nick Wallis followed the scandal for over a decade, showing remarkable and commendable committment to an important cause. Nobody could have written a more complete account of this scandal – and it is a story that the world has to hear.
A tale of flawed software and corporate malpractice might sound dull, but Nick Wallis never loses sight of the human impact. Throughout the book he weaves into his narrative the stories of individuals who have suffered heartbreaking persecution and tragedy. The result is a highly readable, deeply moving and gripping book.
Before reading the book I was already very familiar with the scandal, but I was still shocked on a professional and human level. Nick Wallis has uncovered a wealth of detail that will dismay those, like me, who have worked in IT in more responsible, competent, and professional companies.
If there is any justice “The Great Post Office Scandal” will become a classic. It should be widely read throughout the IT world. People working with these complex IT systems should reflect on how IT affects people and remember Jerry Weinberg’s words; “no matter what they tell you, it’s always a people problem.” Horizon was a human tragedy, caused by people – not technology.
Setting aside the technology, the book also illustrates aspects of modern Britain that should make us feel deeply uncomfortable. It was not inevitable that the subpostmasters would be vindicated. If a different judge, less technically aware than Justice Fraser, had been appointed to hear the group litigation brought by the subpostmasters it is very likely that the outcome would have been different. It is easy to see how the Post Office could have got away with its appalling behaviour and crushed the innocent victims, leaving them financially ruined, their reputations destroyed, their health broken. The justice system and legal profession have difficult lessons to learn.
However, I hope that Nick Wallis’s book will reach a much wider audience than computer experts and lawyers. It is a deeply moving version of one of the oldest stories in the world; it is a classic tale of good people fighting back to overcome fearsome odds and defeat the villains. It is a wonderful read.