Who is Paula Vennells? Ex-post office boss in Horizon IT investigation – BBC News

  • Author, Charlotte Edwards
  • Role, BBC Business reporter

Ex-Post Office boss Paula Vennells will testify next week as part of the inquiry into the Horizon IT scandal.

Ms Vennells was CEO of the Post Office from 2012 to 2019, including the final years of the scandal.

Between 1999 and 2015, more than 900 sub-postmasters were wrongfully prosecuted after faulty software said money was missing from post office accounts.

Despite leading a relatively private life, Ms Vennells, 65, is now one of the scandal’s most recognizable faces.

Since the program aired, she has been seen in public just once, refusing to answer questions from a Channel 4 reporter about whether there was a post office cover-up as she cycled away from a cemetery.

The ITV drama also highlighted her position as an ordained priest – a role she held before joining the Post Office – having trained as a Church of England deacon between 2002 and 2005 before finally being ordained in 2006.

Mrs Vennells served in several churches in Bedfordshire and was interviewed for the position of Bishop of London in 2017.

She relinquished her administrative duties in 2021, but remains an ordained priest.

Image caption, Paula Vennells, pictured in 2013

Mrs Vennells grew up in the North West of England and went to the University of Bradford to study French, Russian and Economics, where she met her future husband John Vennells.

After graduating in 1981, she took the first step in her corporate career with a job at Unilever.

She subsequently worked in management positions at major brands such as Argos, Dixons, L’Oréal, Morrisons, Dunelm and Whitbread.

After leaving the Post Office in 2019, she acted as a non-executive board member at the Cabinet Office for a year and also became chair of Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, but left the role in December 2020 for personal reasons.

Paula Vennells: The basics

But it is her role at the Post Office that is under scrutiny.

Ms Vennells joined the Post Office in 2007 as group network director and was promoted to CEO in 2012, the same year the Post Office separated from Royal Mail.

During her time at the Post Office, there were periods of financial struggle, which forced the closure of thousands of post offices across the country.

Many that remained were modernized and the post office lost millions per year to profit.

Ms Vennells was photographed visiting several of the modernized sites and meeting the people who run them.

In photos she is almost always seen wearing her pearl earrings.

Image caption, Paula Vennells and former Post Office Chairman Tim Parker, seen in 2016 meeting Sub-Postmaster Than Thevarajah at a newly modernized branch in Sussex

Ms Vennells faced increasing scrutiny and criticism over the way she handled the investigation into the Horizon software while working at the Post Office.

She is widely quoted as calling the Horizon computer system “robust.”

More about the post office scandal

The last time she spoke publicly about the scandal was almost a decade ago, in 2015, when she was questioned by a committee of MPs.

Former chancellor Nadhim Zahawi was on the House of Commons business committee at the time and notably played himself for free when the scene was reenacted in the ITV drama.

He asked Ms Vennells why emails from 2009 were not given to private investigators and whether they would be.

Ms Vennells said: “We have shared all the information that is appropriate.”

However, private investigator Ian Henderson denied this was the case.

Ms Vennells stepped down from the Post Office in 2019.

Early that year she appeared on the New Year Honors List and was awarded a CBE for services to the Post Office and to charities.

But in December 2019, the Supreme Court had concluded that the faulty Horizon software was responsible for deficits in branch accounts.

And as the ITV drama sparked more national outrage over the Horizon scandal, legislation was introduced this year to overturn the convictions of all sub-postmasters.

Ms Vennells handed back her CBE in January this year and said she was listening to “calls from sub-postmasters and others” for the honor to be returned.

Those same sub-postmasters and others will eagerly await her testimony before the inquiry, where she will appear for three days from Wednesday, May 23.

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