Vennells ‘aware of disturbing matters a year before company dropped prosecution’

Paula Vennells described possible wrongful convictions of sub-postmasters as “deeply disturbing” more than a year before the company dropped the prosecution, in an email that emerged the day before her evidence to the Horizon IT inquiry.

ITV News reported that the October 2013 email, as well as a recording of a telephone conversation involving Post Office CEO Ms Vennells, confirmed that she had been sent files from eight sub-postmasters.

Speaking to Ron Warmington, a forensic accountant at the firm Second Sight who was called in to independently review the Horizon system, Ms Vennells said: “I have just read the attachments.

“Apart from the fact that I find them very disturbing (I defy anyone not to), I am now even better informed.

“The form you have come up with is very useful because it takes away some of the emotion and highlights very clearly areas that we need to address and explore for the mediation process, which I hope will bring closure for some of these people.

“Like I said…I’m taking this very seriously…”

I hope that Ms Vennells will finally admit the truth so that the public can get to the bottom of this and those who suffered get the justice they need

Nadhim Zahawi

Ms Vennells, who was chief executive between 2012 and 2019, told MPs in February 2015, just over a year after the email was sent, that there was nothing wrong with the Horizon system and that she had seen no evidence of miscarriages of justice.

ITV News said former business and trade committee member Nadhim Zahawi believed the email “will be seen as the smoking gun that is the cover-up that has taken place at the Post Office”.

The Conservative MP told the broadcaster: “I hope Ms Vennells will finally admit the truth so the public can get to the bottom of this and those who have suffered get the justice they need.”

Ms Vennells will be questioned under oath on Wednesday about her role in the Horizon scandal that unfolded under her watch.

The 65-year-old has been accused by subpostmasters of a cover-up, with campaigner and former subpostmistress Jo Hamilton calling on her to tell the truth.

Between 1999 and 2015, more than 700 sub-postmasters were prosecuted by the Post Office and criminally convicted because Fujitsu’s flawed Horizon IT system made it appear as if money was missing from their branches.

The prosecutions continued under Ms Vennells’ watch, despite retired judge Sir Anthony Hooper, the chairman of the mediation program for people who believed they had been wrongly prosecuted by the Post Office, repeatedly telling her they “didn’t make sense” .

The former CEO has not yet spoken in detail about her role in the scandal, but previously apologized for the “devastation caused to sub-postmasters and their families.”

A document filed by her lawyers ahead of a preliminary hearing in 2021 said she was “deeply disturbed” by the rulings in the cases against chief campaigner Alan Bates and Ms Hamilton, which found Horizon to be defective.

She was included in the 2019 New Years Honors List “for services to the Post Office and to charities”, but voluntarily returned the honor after a petition attracted more than 1.2 million signatures.

In a brief statement issued earlier by Ms Vennells, she said she would “continue to support and focus on the investigation”.

Ms Vennells could be questioned about her knowledge of the ability to remotely access the Horizon system, alleged false evidence provided by expert witnesses during Post Office prosecutions, and the conduct of the company’s investigators.

She may also be asked whether she believed there were miscarriages of justice during her tenure, after finance director Alisdair Cameron told the inquiry there were not and that she ‘couldn’t have gotten there emotionally’.

The Post Office has come under fire following the screening of the ITV drama Mr Bates Vs The Post Office, which spotlighted the Horizon IT scandal.

Hundreds of subpostmasters are still waiting for full compensation, despite the government announcing that those whose convictions have been quashed will be eligible for a £600,000 payout.

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