Post office investigation: ‘Come clean’ victim demands from ex-boss Vennells

Paula Vennells will give evidence over three days to the inquiry, which starts this morning, with campaigners urging the ordained priest to take responsibility for widespread failings and a cover-up over the Horizon scandal.

By means of James Sillars, business reporter @SkyNewsBiz

Wednesday, May 22, 2024 1:38 AM, UK

A victim of the Post Office Horizon scandal has told Sky News that ex-boss Paula Vennells should “come clean” in her testimony to the statutory inquiry.

Chirag Sidhpura, a former sub-postmaster who became one of the public champions for justice based on his own treatment by the Post Office, said he expected a “culture of denial” and “lies” during Ms Vennells’ three days of scheduled evidence.

She is scheduled to appear for inquest later this morning.

The 65-year-old, who was CEO of the Post Office from 2012 to 2019, will speak publicly about what happened for the first time in almost a decade.

Although she has since admitted that sub-postmasters were wrongly accused and prosecuted over errors in the Horizon accounting system under her watch, the investigation will seek to determine what she knew and when.

She told a committee of MPs in 2015: ‘We are a company that genuinely cares about the people who work for us. If there had been miscarriages of justice, it would have been very important to me and the Post Office that we had exposed them. The way the investigation has gone, we have no evidence of that yet.”

Chirag Sidhpura: ‘I’ve had breakdowns’

Victims are central to this scandal beg to differ.

Post office prosecutors were warned about bugs with Horizon days before the trial and eventual conviction of Sub-Postmaster Seema Misra in 2010 – before Ms Vennells had taken over.

There is further evidence – in the form of recordings leaked to Sky News – that suggests Ms Vennells was told in May 2013 that Horizon operator Fujitsu had been accessing the system remotely.

On Tuesday, ITV News reported describing potential wrongful convictions of sub-postmasters as “deeply disturbing” in an October 2013 email.

That was written over a year before the company dropped the prosecutions.

Experience of Chirag Sidhpura

Chirag had personally written to Ms Vennells in 2017 about his own case. A week later his contract was terminated.

He chose to hand over more than £57,000 to avoid prosecution. He not only lost his business, but also his home and sanity.

Speaking about Ms Vennells’ evidence, Chirag said: ‘I think there will still be a culture of denial and lies: ‘I can’t remember, I can’t remember’.

“It’s presented to you in black and white that you did this, that you made these decisions. Just tell it honestly.’

ITV drama Mr Bates vs The Post Office thrust Ms Vennells, whose career has included stints at companies including L’Oreal and the NHS, into the spotlight.

She is also an Anglican priest.

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Read more:
Who is Paula Vennells?
The most important questions the top post office boss must answer – and why her answers matter
The Post Office Horizon Scandal Explained

Ex-post office director accused of lying

A lawyer’s opinion

Paul Marshall, a lawyer for victims, told Sky News that Ms Vennells’ evidence was an opportunity to “make a confession”, claiming she led a Post Office “cult” that was driving the inability of businesses had to accept flaws.

‘In a sense she was or became the leader of what was indistinguishable from a cult.

“It had a belief system in which anything that did not coincide with that sect and its beliefs had to be either destroyed or excluded and removed.”

Ms Vennells has pledged to cooperate fully with the investigation and, like all witnesses, must take an oath to tell the truth before giving evidence.

A statement she released earlier this year said: “I continue to support and focus the investigation and expect to provide evidence in the coming months.

“I am truly sorry for the devastation caused to the sub-postmasters and their families, whose lives were torn apart as they were wrongly accused and wrongfully prosecuted as a result of the Horizon system.

“I now intend to remain focused on assisting the investigation and will make no further public comment until it is completed.”

Follow Paula Vennells’ interrogation during the investigation live on Sky News on Wednesday. Watch Sky News live here and on YouTube, or on TV on Freeview 233, Sky 501, Virgin 603 and BT 313. You can also keep up with the latest news on the Sky News website and app.

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