Post office investigation – live: Paula Vennells faces criticism from victim’s lawyers

Paula Vennells broke down in tears during her testimony on Wednesday

Ex-Post Office chief executive Paula Vennells has insisted “I did my best” and refused to say she was responsible for her own downfall, in a fiery opening to her third and final day of testimony in the Horizon inquiry .

Facing intense questioning from Ed Henry KC, who acts on behalf of sub-postmasters, Ms Vennells has insisted she has done her “very best” as chief executive.

“I was the general manager. I did not set the agenda for the work of the plan and the way its legal and IT parts worked,” she said, adding: I had to rely on those colleagues who were experts and I had no reason to not to follow advice. I got… I tried my hardest because of this and it wasn’t good enough. And that is a regret that I carry with me.”

The 65-year-old has been subjected to intense questioning for two days by the investigation’s lead lawyer, Jason Beer KC, breaking down in tears several times as she apologized to the victims and was pressed about her response to the death of Subpostmaster Martin Griffiths.

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The Chairman intervenes as Vennells challenges remote access to the Horizon system

Paula Vennells has been challenged on the grounds that “remote access – unauthorized tampering – was never resolved during the entire period you were director and chief executive”.

Mrs Vennells replied: “And the question is?”

Mr. Henry continued: “In other words, the gap between corporate communications, the outward side of the company and the grimy internal reality.”

The former CEO said: “I’m sorry, I want to be able to help. You make statements…’ to which Sir Wyn Williams interposed: ‘Let me try, Mrs Vennells. I think the point being put to you is that during the period that you were CEO, let’s leave it at that – it makes it simpler – that the real extent of remote access was never satisfactorily resolved by the senior people of the post office.”

Ms Vennells said: “So if that is correct the volume of interventions that took place is as I understand it and I have only understood this since in terms of what is detailed in the Horizon judgment and the Project Bramble report that I In retrospect it appears that it seems as if interventions took place on a fairly frequent basis, which, as Mr Beer said yesterday, was unknown to me, and I believe the board and the group management.

“I don’t know how widely this information was known within the post office, but it was clear it was happening.”

Andy GregoryMay 24, 2024 10:44 AM

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Paula Vennells denies being ‘politically adept’

Rebuffed at the suggestion that she is “politically adept,” Paula Vennells said: “I would suggest that was not the case, this was my first job in a public sector organisation.”

But lawyer Ed Henry KC said he found this surprising as she had later moved to the Cabinet Office.

When Ms Vennells said she didn’t understand the connection, Mr Henry continued: ‘Your concerns went up. You were obsessed with the media and delighted with the stakeholders, the board, the government, Whitehall. Those were your priorities, weren’t they?’

Ms Vennells said these were “very important stakeholders” for the Post Office.

Andy GregoryMay 24, 2024 10:31 AM

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The research chair intervenes after Paula Vennells interrupted the mid-response

In a sign of the intensity of the interrogations against Paula Vennells, the chairman of the inquiry, Sir Wyn Williams, has seen fit to intervene after the former CEO was interrupted several times.

Sir Wyn told Ed Henry KC, acting for the sub-postmasters: “I appreciate that you have a difficult job, but the witness also has a difficult job.

“So I would ask you both: one to ask the question, one to complete the answer. And then we move on.”

Mr Henry apologized to Mrs Vennells and to Sir Wyn.

Andy GregoryMay 24, 2024 10:28 am

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“I did my utmost,” says Paula Vennells.

Paula Vennells has insisted she did “her very best” as CEO but that she “did not set the agenda” and “had no reason to follow the advice” given to her by legal and IT experts on the Horizon scandal , not to be followed.

She said: “I was the CEO. I did not set the agenda for the work of the plan and the way its legal and IT components worked. As I said in the investigation over the past two days, I am not a lawyer, I did not have the expertise or experience to lead in this. I’m not on the IT side either.

“I had to rely on those colleagues who were experts and I had no reason not to follow the advice I was given. I accept that I was CEO and as CEO you have the ultimate responsibility, and that is just a fact.

“You are not responsible for everything that happens under you. You have to rely on the advice of internal and external experts and that is what I did. I wasn’t working on this alone. I was surrounded by the board, by the group management.

“I can’t think of any of the most important decisions I’ve made on my own, apart from anyone else. This was far too serious an undertaking for the Post Office – for everyone involved, for every single postmaster’s case, and my ambition was to see it through.

“I did my best and it wasn’t good enough. And that is a regret that I carry with me.”

Andy GregoryMay 24, 2024 10:13 AM

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Paula Vennells refuses to say she is responsible for her own demise

Paula Vennells has been questioned again about her request to her husband for “less emotional” language than “bugs” to describe Horizon’s shortcomings.

Mrs Vennells says: “I was worried about the insects,” at which point Mr Henry interjects: “You didn’t do anything.”

He claimed Ms Vennells had “failed to heed the warning” that “these bugs could manifest under unforeseen circumstances”, adding: “It was staring you in the face.”

The former CEO said that “what I have said about this so far is all I knew at the time… and I repeat again: we should have said ‘bugs’”.

Stressing that she has “no one to blame but yourself,” Ms Vennells continued: “Absolutely. Where I made mistakes and made the wrong calls, whether or not in those cases where I had no information, that’s more difficult, but where I did have information and I made the wrong calls, yes of course.”

Telling her that she is “responsible for her own demise”, Ms Vennells said she had lost all employment since the Court of Appeal judgment and that since then she has only been working on this investigation, which “has been a full-time job ”. for the past year.

“I have avoided talking to the press, perhaps to my own detriment, because I have put this first all the time.”

Andy GregoryMay 24, 2024 10:05 AM

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Vennells confronted with ‘preaching but not practicing compassion’

Things get off to a fiery start.

“You exercised power without considering the consequences of your actions, even though those consequences were staring you in the face,” says Ed Henry KC.

Discussing the mediation plan, Ms Vennells says: “I believed we were doing the right things and that clearly wasn’t always the case,” before admitting: “I can’t find words today that can ease the sadness and what people have lost by better.”

Mr Henry replies: “That’s nonsense. You preach compassion, but you don’t practice it.” He notes that Lee Castleton was “locked out of the mediation process” because he was an “illustrious scalp” who could be used in the Group Litigation Order.

Ms Vennells says she was not personally involved in the matters involved in the mediation plan, but admits what happened to Mr Castleton was “inexcusable”.

Andy GregoryMay 24, 2024 9:59 AM

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Paula Vennells admits she ‘hasn’t always followed the right path’

The investigation is underway again.

“There were so many forks in the road, but you always took the wrong path, didn’t you?” Ed Henry KC begins by asking Paula Vennells, who admits, “The Post Office and I have not always followed the right path, I am very clear about that.”

Andy GregoryMay 24, 2024 9:53 am

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Paula Vennells denies that discovering bugs in the Horizon system was ‘world-changing information’

Paula Vennells yesterday did not accept that discovering bugs in the Horizon IT system was “world-changing information”.

Investigating barrister Jason Beer KC said: “You tell us again and again in your witness statement that you were told again and again until May 2013 that there were no bugs in Horizon,” to which Ms Vennells replied: “Yes.”

Mr. Beer asked: “Doesn’t this world change the information for you?”

Ms Vennells accepted that it was “information that changed”, but later added, when asked the same question: “Sorry, what I didn’t convey clearly enough was that this was important, but at the same time I was reassured that these bugs were resolved with.”

The lawyer asked, “Is that reassurance in writing somewhere or is it one of these hallway conversations?”

Ms Vennells said: “I think it is in writing in the Second Sight interim report.”

Andy GregoryMay 24, 2024 9:37 AM

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Pictured: Paula Vennells arrives for the third day of testimony

Paula Vennells has arrived at Aldwych House for her third and final day of giving evidence at the Post Office Inquiry.

Former Post Office chief executive Paula Vennells arrives on her third day of testifying
Former Post Office chief executive Paula Vennells arrives on her third day of testifying (Carl Court/Getty Images)

Members of the Justice for Subpostmasters Alliance demonstrated outside the building on Friday morning, holding up a banner with their demands for a full legal investigation, full compensation for the victims of the scandal and for those responsible to be identified and held accountable.

Members of the Justice For Subpostmasters Alliance hold a banner after former Post Office chief executive Paula Vennells arrived
Members of the Justice For Subpostmasters Alliance hold a banner after former Post Office chief executive Paula Vennells arrived (Carl Court/Getty Images)

Andy GregoryMay 24, 2024 9:18 am

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Paula Vennells appears to have been ‘well rehearsed’ by the legal team, subpostmaster suggests

A former sub-postmaster has said Paula Vennells was “very well rehearsed by her legal team” ahead of her investigative testimony.

Former sub-postmaster Damian Owen told Sky News: “I think she was very well trained by her legal team not to say anything, not to remember anything.

“Even if she gets caught saying something that she may have said but she doesn’t remember it, but then they produce another document to prove that she not only heard it but signed that she read it, then they just have to pause a little or cry and then they know they have to move on because they cross the line into self-blame.”

Andy GregoryMay 24, 2024 9:02 am

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