Shropshire Star

Venells sobs as she declares love for Post Office during fierce inquiry grilling

Ms Vennells has been tearful on each of her three days at the Horizon IT inquiry.

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Paula Vennells

Paula Vennells sobbed as she declared her “love” for the Post Office during a fierce grilling at the Horizon IT inquiry.

The 65-year-old has appeared visibly emotional on all three days as she gave evidence to the probe, and was forced to compose herself after she was accused of being someone who “couldn’t be bothered” to find a problem that would devastate the Post Office.

During a tearful episode at Aldwych House in central London, Ms Vennells admitted she had let subpostmasters down, but claimed her “only motivation was for the best for the Post Office and for the hundreds of postmasters that I met”.

She denied leading the Post Office through “deception” and “manipulation”, as she told the probe: “I was trying to address a culture in the organisation which I had found to be command and control, where people couldn’t speak their minds and they couldn’t speak up.

“I was trying to encourage people to work in that way. I did not deal in deception.”

Ms Vennells also claimed she was “noted” within the Post Office for “caring about subpostmasters”.

She added: “One of my huge regrets in this is that I did not do that for the subpostmasters affected in this way and that will be with me.”

Paula Vennells
Ms Vennells was taking part in a third day of evidence at the Post Office Horizon IT inquiry at Aldwych House, central London (Jonathan Brady/PA)

Under questioning from Sam Stein KC, a lawyer on behalf of a number of subpostmasters, she said she “believed” she was asking the right questions about the Horizon system but accepted she “may not have”, as she was not an IT expert.

Mr Stein said: “Ms Vennells, you’re not stupid. You studied French, Russian, business as a degree. You then worked for well-known companies in the UK. Whitbread, Argos, others.

“You rose through the ranks of the Post Office to become its CEO. You were pushing forward under network transformation. You’ve been quoted as saying that you want and you see a future of the Post Office opening up more branches, 30,000 branches in the future.

Members of the Justice For Subpostmaster Alliance protest outside Aldwych House in central London (Jonathan Brady/PA)

“That was you, Ms Vennells, at the time. A vision you were expressing to everyone that asked about what you could see for the future. And yet here all of these facts were adding up to there being a real problem, a really difficult problem to chew over, right the way through 2013.

“And you failed, didn’t you? You failed to get into this, on your account, you failed to ask the right questions. You couldn’t be bothered, could you Ms Vennells? The risk was too great. Looking under that rock, you’re going to find a problem, it’s going to devastate the Post Office. Ruin it. And you couldn’t let that happen, could you, Ms Vennells?”

The former chief executive said: “I loved the Post Office,” after which she grew emotional and paused to compose herself.

Eventually, she continued: “I worked as hard as I possibly could to deliver the best Post Office for the UK.

“It would have been wonderful to have 30,000 Post Office branches, that would have been the best outcome ever, to have … more Post Offices in more communities.

“What I failed to do – and I have made this clear previously – is, I did not recognise … the imbalance of power between the institution and the individual. And I let these people down. I am very aware of that.

“And we should have had better governance in place. We should have had better data reporting in place that meant we could see what was happening to individual postmasters and to the system. That was not the case.

“At no time did I put the Post Office over the cases that were brought forwards. I worked as hard as I could and to the best of my ability and I am very sorry that I was not able to find out what the inquiry has found out.

Paula Vennells
Ms Vennells became emotional when she told the inquiry she loved the Post Office (Jonathan Brady/PA)

“I don’t know today how much wasn’t told to me but my only motivation was for the best for the Post Office and for the hundreds of postmasters that I met, and I regret deeply that I let these people down.”

The ordained priest also admitted she had “no-one to blame” but herself for what happened during the Horizon scandal.

She told the hearing there are “no words” that will make the “sorrow and what people have gone through any better”.

Under questioning from Edward Henry KC, another lawyer representing a number of subpostmasters, she said she “didn’t always take the right path”.

She told the hearing she lost all employment since the Court of Appeal passed a judgment which ultimately led to a number of subpostmasters’ convictions being overturned.

Beginning his questioning, Mr Henry said: “There were so many forks in the road, but you always took the wrong path, didn’t you?”

Ms Vennells said: “It was an extraordinarily complex undertaking and the Post Office and I didn’t always take the right path, I’m very clear about that.”

Questioned on whether she had anyone to blame but herself during the scandal, Ms Vennells said: “Absolutely. Where I made mistakes and where I made the wrong calls … where I had information and I made the wrong calls, yes, of course.”

Mr Henry went on: “What I’m going to suggest to you is that whatever you did was deliberate, considered and calculated. No-one deceived you, no-one misled you. You set the agenda and the tone for the business.”

Ms Vennells said: “I did my very best through this, and it wasn’t good enough, and that is a regret I carry with me.”

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

Hundreds of subpostmasters are still awaiting compensation despite the Government announcing that those who have had convictions quashed are eligible for £600,000 payouts.

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