Ex-post office boss Paula Vennells admits she removed reference to Horizon IT system from Royal Mail prospectus

In an emotional testimonial, Mrs Vennells said she “loved the Post Office” and “worked as hard as I could to deliver the best Post Office for Britain”.

By means of Sarah Taaffe-Maguire, business reporter @taaffems

Friday May 24, 2024 5:12 PM, UK

Former Post Office boss Paula Vennells has admitted altering the legal document Royal Mail issued to potential investors before it went into public hands to remove mention of the flawed Horizon IT system.

Data from Fujitsu’s accounting software was used to prosecute more than 700 sub-postmasters for theft and false accounting.

Many more victims lost their homes, livelihoods and good reputations to repay non-existent deficits.

‘Last minute changes’ to the Royal Mail prospectus removing the Horizon reference

Now the inquiry, which was set up to get a clear account of Horizon’s introduction and failure, has been told during the third and final day of questioning from Ms Vennells that she had “at the very last minute” removed the reference to Horizon removed from the prospectus issued by Royal Mail before it was issued. listed on the London Stock Exchange.

A prospectus is a legal and financial document that contains important information for potential business investors.

It was the first time the issue had been raised with Ms Vennells.

More about the post office scandal

Paula Vennells bursts into tears again

She said: “It was brought to my attention that in the IT section of the Royal Mail prospectus there was reference to – I can’t remember the words now – but the risks associated with the Horizon IT system… the line that was stated that no systemic problems were found with the Horizon system.”

Ms Vennells wanted the reference removed because “the Horizon system no longer had anything to do with the Royal Mail group”, she said, and contacted the company secretary to have the reference removed.

‘Made my money’ in the Post Office split and the Royal Mail list

Based on this action, Ms Vennells wrote to a colleague: “I have made a living doing this”.

If Horizon bugs had been known at the time, Ms Vennells agreed the Royal Mail could not have been made private.

‘Wrongful prosecutions of Royal Mail would have stopped it from floating [on the London Stock Exchange] “I’m sure that would have been the case,” she said.

Post Office and Royal Mail were one organization before being separated in 2012, so some Horizon prosecutions were carried out by Royal Mail.

Want to earn her CBE?

A legal adviser who questioned her suggested that it was her good work with the break-up of Royal Mail and the return of Post Office profitability that earned her a CBE (Commander of the British Empire).

Mrs Vennells has returned her OBE before it was eventually removed.

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She was at the top of Post Office for 12 years and was CEO of seven of those from 2012 to 2019.

In a sometimes emotional testimonial, Mrs Vennells said she “loved the Post Office” and “worked as hard as I could to deliver the best Post Office for Britain”.

Accept responsibility?

When asked if she was responsible for her own demise, she said she has not been employed since 2019.

“I lost all the work I had. And since then I’ve just been working on this research. It’s been very important for me to do what I didn’t do or couldn’t do when I was CEO and I have been working for the past three years and prioritizing this over everything else,” she said.

“For the past year it has probably been a full-time job and it is my commitment. I have avoided talking to the press, perhaps to my own detriment, because I have put this first all the time.”

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A pile of details

In denying a lawyer’s accusation that she had provided a “cowardly selfish bill”, Ms Vennells said as CEO: “You are not responsible for everything that happens… You must rely on the advice of internal and external experts.”

Details of Horizon’s numerous failings of which Ms Vennells was aware were put to the inquiry by the victims’ lawyer, Sam Stein KC (the King’s counsel).

“This was a whole collection of Horizon faith-destroying facts that were a direct attack on the fundamental system that supported the Post Office, and they all came one after the other,” he said.

“Bang, boom, boom! An attack on the Horizon system. By the end of 2013 you could no longer doubt, Ms. Vennells, that the Horizon system needed investigation, needed investigation, needed a deep investigation and overhaul had.”

To trust

Ms Vennells’ recurring refrain throughout the days of the hearings was that she trusted the people she worked with, that she did not get details from them and that she did not have the technical knowledge to understand all the IT details.

She said she may have been “too confident.”

She was asked Friday for the specific names of people she placed her trust in and listed former Post Office executives.

“You distance yourself time and time again. You blame these mysterious other people for not telling you the truth,” Mr. Stein said.

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