Ex-postmaster booed by sub-postmasters because he said she was bored with business

Wrongfully convicted sub-postmasters booed former post office boss Paula Vennells when it emerged she had dismissed their stories of injustice as ‘hype and human interest’, saying she was more bored than outraged by them.

The dramatic scenes came on the third day of her testimony to the inquiry into the Horizon IT scandal, with the ex-chief executive apologizing to a leading campaigner – accused of stealing £36,000 – for being rude to her Has been.

Subpostmasters in the public gallery at the hearing in London groaned when Ms Vennells said she did not remember whether she had followed a PR expert’s advice not to review five to 10 years’ worth of previous prosecutions.

Paula Vennells admitted she had no one to blame but herself for what happened
Paula Vennells admitted she had no one to blame but herself for what happened (Reuters)

Ms Vennells, who led the organization from 2012 to 2019, said during her testimony that there were no words that would “make better the sadness and what people have been through”.

And she admitted she had no one to blame but herself for what happened.

More than 700 subpostmasters were prosecuted and criminally convicted by the Post Office between 1999 and 2015, when Fujitsu’s flawed Horizon IT system made it appear as if money was disappearing from their branches.

Then the BBC The one show in which sub-postmasters fought to clear their names in 2014, Ms Vennells told her colleagues she was “more bored than outraged” when she heard about their cases, the inquiry was told, prompting boos.

An email from December 2014 was revealed in which the former CEO claimed former sub-postmistress and leading campaigner Jo Hamilton “lacked passion and admitted false accounting on TV”.

Following the three days of evidence, Ms Vennells, who is also an ordained priest, apologized directly to Ms Hamilton on Friday, saying: “I am deeply sorry for being so rude to you in that email.”

But Ms Hamilton said: “I accept everyone’s apology but whether she means it or not is another matter. I’m not sure.

“I doubt if it was real or if she was so publicly ashamed.”

Ms Vennells was moved to tears several times during the inquest
Ms Vennells was moved to tears several times during the inquest (PA media)

Sam Stein KC, on behalf of a number of sub-postmasters, accused Ms Vennells of setting a ‘let’s eliminate them’ tone for the Post Office’s attitude to the High Court case brought by chief campaigner Alan Bates and others between 2017 and 2019 .

The lawyer said: “The tone was, ‘Let’s eliminate them, let’s get rid of these bugs in the system – the subpostmasters.’ You set that up, didn’t you, Mrs. Vennells?’

She replied, “I didn’t create such a culture. I did not conduct the trial.”

Mark Davies, head of communications at the post office, had said this The one show that convicted sub-postmasters had faced ‘lifestyle problems’.

Anger came from the public gallery as Tim Moloney KC, for Ms Hamilton, read out Ms Vennells’ response, which said: “I do not deny that it is useless and inaccurate (particularly the focus on Horizon, but see thoughts on that below), Mark (Davies) has achieved more balanced reporting than I could have hoped for.

“The statements stamped on the screen with the PO (Post Office) sign in the background were very powerful. They emphasized everything we did, and came across as… fact! Very good.

“The rest was hype and human interest. It’s not easy for me to be objective, but I was more bored than outraged.”

Angers came from the public gallery as Ms Vennells' email was read out
Angers came from the public gallery as Ms Vennells’ email was read out (PA wire)

She added in the email: “There was nothing about intimidation, poor coaching and the message that you didn’t know how to use the system that made the SPMRS (subpostmasters) look inadequate in my eyes.”

Ms Vennells told the inquiry on Friday: “I regret everything I said.”

She continued: “The pressure we were under at the time to try to cope – what we really felt – was an imbalance in media coverage and representation of what was happening at the Post Office.

“I have no excuse for what I wrote other than…I was under pressure and I was relieved that maybe the program hadn’t been as bad or as intense as I expected.”

She broke down in tears more than once during her three-day testimony and admitted to letting sub-postmasters down.

On Friday she denied running the Post Office through “deception” and “manipulation”, saying: “I was trying to tackle a culture in the organization which in my view was one of ‘command and control’, in which people had their say couldn’t express and she couldn’t talk.”

She claimed she was listed at the post office for her care of sub-postmasters.

She added: “One of the great regrets I have in this is that I did not do that for the sub-postmasters who were affected in this way, and that will remain with me.”

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

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *