Three key claims made about ex-Post Office boss Paula Vennells this week

Paula Vennells's conduct during the scandal has been scrutinised this week at the Horizon Inquiry

RETRANSMISSION CORRECTING TITLE Post Office Chief Executive Paula Vennells at the launch of the Post Office's three new current accounts, at the Norwich Crown Post Office branch in Norwich.
Paula Vennells was the Post Office's chief executive from 2012 to 2019. (PA)

What's happening? This week's round of interviews at the inquiry into the Post Office Horizon scandal has seen a lot of accusations made about former chief executive Paula Vennells.

Vennells has yet to give evidence to the committee - she is due to appear from 22 May - but much of the criticism for how the Post Office handled the scandal has been directed at 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.

Her pivotal 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 has repeatedly apologised for how the Post Office handled the scandal, and in a statement through her lawyers previously sent to Yahoo News, said: “I continue to support and focus on co-operating with the Inquiry and expect to be giving evidence in the coming months.

More than 700 subpostmasters were prosecuted by the government-owned Post Office. (PA)
More than 700 subpostmasters were prosecuted by the government-owned Post Office. (PA)

“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.”

Here Yahoo News breaks down some of the key claims made about her in the inquiry this week.

On Wednesday 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 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."

Chris Aujard was a former top lawyer at the Post Office. (PA)
Chris Aujard was a former top lawyer at the Post Office. (PA)

Prosecutions would continue for another two years.

Aurjard also told the inquiry when he joined the company in 2013 he was told there were no "bugs, errors or defects” in the Horizon system apart from those identified in an audit report.

Lawyer 'put integrity before interests of the Post Office'

On Tuesday, Susan Crichton, the Post Office’s general counsel, told the inquiry Vennells did not understand her reasons for resigning from her role in 2013.

The discussion focused on an interim report released by auditors Second Sight in 2013, which leaders at the Post Office feared may harm their national reputation if published. Crichton then told the inquiry there may have been an expectation to "manage or manipulate" the report, which contributed to her decision to leave the company.

Crichton told the inquiry that she believed Vennells had not understood her reasons for leaving, saying: "I don’t think she understood my point about [the Second Site interim report] has to be an independent review, we can’t manage it or manipulate it in the way that possibly Alice Perkins [former chairwoman] was expecting me to do.

Susan Crichton left the Post Office in 2013. (PA)
Susan Crichton left the Post Office in 2013. (PA)

“This is all supposition on my part.”

In September 2013, Vennells wrote in a note that Crichton was “possibly more loyal to her professional conduct requirements and put her integrity as a lawyer above the interests of the business”.

On Tuesday Vennells was accused of making "Orwellian" moves to make the word 'bugs' sound "non-emotive.

The inquiry heard that in July 2013, the Post Office’s Ms Vennells had asked her "computer literate" husband for an alternative word to describe a computer bug.

In an email to then communications chief Mark Davies, Ms Vennells wrote: "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?

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

Davies replied: "I like exception v much."

Counsel to the inquiry Julian Blake said the language was "absolutely Orwellian."