Five key claims made about Paula Vennells in the Post Office scandal

The Post Office CEO Paula Vennells is due to appear before the Post Office Horizon inquiry on Wednesday

EDITORIAL USE ONLY File photo dated 13/05/13 of former Post Office boss Paula Vennells who is to hand back her CBE following the fallout of the Horizon IT scandal which led to the wrongful prosecution of hundreds of subpostmasters. The former chief executive, who ran the Post Office while it routinely denied there was a problem with its Horizon IT system, was appointed a CBE in December 2018. Issue date: Monday May 13, 2013.
Former Post Office boss Paula Vennells will be answering questions before the inquiry on 22 May. (Alamy)

The former CEO of the Post Office Paula Vennells is due to appear before the Horizon inquiry on Wednesday 22 May.

Numerous accusations have been levelled at Vennells since the scandal came to light, with some of the focus on how the Post Office handled the scandal during her leadership from 2012 to 2019.

More than 700 subpostmasters were prosecuted by the government-owned Post Office and handed criminal convictions between 1999 and 2015 as Fujitsu’s faulty Horizon system made it appear as though money was missing at their branches.

Vennells' role in continuing prosecutions after the increasing amount of evidence pointed to errors in the Horizon system - rather than it being the fault of the subpostmasters - has been a core part of the inquiry.

Vennells wrote a letter to the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Select Committee in June 2020, laying down her responses to questions asked by the committee - as well as apologising to the victims.

"I want to say that I am deeply sorry for those sub-postmasters who have suffered, for their families and colleagues, and for what they have been through. I have read many of their stories, and they are harrowing. They are with me every day," she said.

Tim Parker, Post Office Chairman and Paula Vennells, Post Office Chief Executive at the opening of the Nyetimber Post Office branch in Sussex, which is the 6000th branch to be transformed in the biggest modernisation programme in UK retail history.
Tim Parker, Post Office Chairman, and Paula Vennells at the opening of the Nyetimber Post Office branch in Sussex during her time as CEO.

"I also wish to recognise that it is now clear from the judgments in the group litigation that there was a real risk – over a period of 20 years, beginning in 1998 - that sub-postmasters could be blamed for financial anomalies caused, not by their own fault, but by defects in the Horizon technology. For the avoidance of any doubt, I was and remain deeply disturbed by what has come to light: it is contrary to what I believed throughout my time as CEO of Post Office between 2012 and 2019."

In the letter she also reiterated that she did not accept any personal criminal misconduct, and said she welcomed the inquiry.

Vennells' lawyers told Yahoo in a statement last month: “I am truly sorry for the devastation caused to the subpostmasters and their families, whose lives were torn apart by being wrongly accused and wrongly prosecuted as a result of the Horizon system. I now intend to continue to focus on assisting the Inquiry and will not make any further public comment until it has concluded.”

Vennells 'interjected' to stop prosecutions

Vennells has been accused of advocating for the continuation of prosecutions of subpostmasters after it was suggested at a meeting in 2013 that they should cease.

In April, the inquiry heard from Chris Aujard, a former top lawyer at the Post Office, who discussed a meeting in 2013 and said: “My recollection is that the executive committee were in favour of ceasing prosecutions [of subpostmasters] entirely.

"But, when that proposition was discussed at the committee, Paula interjected or made the comment that proposition should not be taken as what I’d intended it to be, never bringing prosecutions, but rather… Post Office should continue to take some prosecutions."

Prosecutions would continue for another two years.

Vennells accused of misleading the government

Vennells reportedly made several different claims to ministers during her tenure running the Post Office. In 2012, she wrote to minister Oliver Letwin about the cases of subpostmasters, telling him: "In every instance, the court has found in our favour."

Jason Beer KC, counsel to the inquiry, said of her statement: "It's just not true."

And in 2015, Vennells reportedly wrote to then-Post Office minister Jo Swinson telling her "no evidence has been found through these [internal] investigations of any system wide issues with Horizon", also adding that the "Post Office has found no reason to conclude that any prosecution was unsafe”.

Jo Swinson, Leader of the Liberal Democrats arrives to attend a memorial service for former Leader of the Liberal Democrats Lord Paddy Ashdown at Westminster Abbey in London, Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2019. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)
Paula Vennells reportedly told Jo Swinson that investigations had found no fault with the Horizon system. (AP)

However, recordings made in secret by ITV News suggest Vennells was told by independent investigators in 2014 that there were potential problems with Horizon - including the suggestion that branch accounts could be accessed remotely. In addition, they told Vennells the Post office's denial stance was "dangerous".

Vennells 'did not believe there were miscarriages of justice'

Vennells "had been unwavering in her conviction that there were no miscarriages of justice" former colleague and current Post Office CFO Alisdair Cameron told the inquiry on 17 May.

In a 2020 document analysing what had gone wrong at the Post Office, Cameron wrote: "Paula did not believe there had been a miscarriage and could not have got there emotionally."

Questioned by the inquiry counsel about why he came to that conclusion about Vennells' attitude, Cameron said: "Everything she sort of said at the time. She had been clear in her conviction from when I joined that nothing had gone wrong. This was stated in my very first board meeting and she never in my observations deviated from that.”

Vennells was repeatedly told Post Office's case didn't make sense

Vennells was told on several occasions by retired judge Sir Anthony Hooper, chairman of the Post Office's mediation scheme, that the Post Office's case did not make sense.

“As I say in my witness statement, I tried to make it clear to Paula Vennells and to the chair that the Post Office’s case didn’t make sense and I felt that throughout and no doubt [investigators] Second Sight did," he told the inquiry on 10 April.

“It didn’t make sense that reputable sub-postmasters appointed by the Post Office after an examination of their characters would be stealing these sums of money. It didn’t make sense.”

“It just never made sense and I made that point over and over again.”

Vennells accused of using 'Orwellian' language around Horizon fault

In 2013, Vennells wrote an email to then Post Office communications director Mark Davies in which she suggested they water down the language around "bugs" in the Horizon system.

London, England, UK. 25th Apr, 2024. Victims of Post Office scandal hold a banner outside Aldwych House as Angela van den Bogerd starts giving evidence at Post Office - Horizon IT Inquiry, (Credit Image: © Tayfun Salci/ZUMA Press Wire) EDITORIAL USAGE ONLY! Not for Commercial USAGE!
Victims of Post Office scandal hold a banner outside the Horizon inquiry. (Zuma)

“My engineer/computer literate husband sent the following reply to the question: ‘What is a non-emotive word for computer bugs, glitches, defects that happen as a matter of course?" she wrote.

“Answer: ‘Exception or anomaly. You can also say conditional exception/anomaly which only manifests itself under unforeseen circumstances xx”

She added: “Does that help? (The xx was for me I think!)"

Davies replied: “I like exception v much.”

The attempt to change the language around the system's bugs was described by the counsel to the inquiry as “absolutely Orwellian”.