Paula Vennells

Former Post Office CEO Paula Vennells spent three days being questioned at the Post Office Horizon Inquiry. At the helm of the Post Office while the Horizon software situation happened, many questions have been asked about her involvement and culpability regarding the subpostmasters that were wrongly charged with offences relating to the software.

Subpostmasters have been asking these questions for many years however the ITV drama, Mr Bates versus the Post Office brought the issue to wider attention, prompting new legislation to quash offences of those affected and for a petition for Vennells to be stripped of her CBE to gain more than a million signatures.

1. An apology is offered…

For many, this has been a long time coming. Vennells started off her session at the Post Office inquiry with a prepared statement, apologising to those impacted by the Horizon scandal.

She said: “I would just like to say – and I’m grateful for the opportunity to do this in person – how sorry I am for all that subpostmasters and their families and others have suffered as a result of all of the matters that the Inquiry has been looking into for so long. I followed and listened to all of the Human Impact statements, and I was very affected by them. I remember listening to one postmaster, whose name I noted, who said that he would like somebody to go and stand outside his old post office with him so he could tell them exactly what he’d been through. I would do that. I am very, very sorry.

“I would also like to repeat the apology which is in my witness statement to Alan Bates, to Ron Warmington and Ian Henderson from Second Sight, and to Lord Arbuthnot. I and those I worked with made their work so much harder and I’m very, very sorry for that.

“My third apology is really about today because I will answer the questions truthfully and I’m very aware that they will be difficult to listen to, for you and for me, and I ask your understanding in advance of that. Thank you.”

The reception to this apology has been mixed at best, with many subpostmasters either not accepting it or feeling it’s not enough.

2. Claims she wasn’t told about problems in the system but doesn’t believe there was a conspiracy against her.

A series of reports regarding advice that the system wasn’t functioning properly was read to Vennells and she denied having any awareness of issues. However when questioned further, she doesn’t believe that it was a conspiracy to keep the information from her.

3. ‘I think you knew’

The questioning revealed a conversation between Vennells and former Royal Mail CEO Moya Greene that took place in January 2024, around the time of the airing of the ITV drama. In the exchange, Greene accuses Vennells of being aware of the faults when they were happening which the former Post Office CEO denies vehemently.

4. Questioning the mental health of victims

The sessions raised the case of Martin Griffiths, who committed suicide following being accused of taking money from his post office as well as being held liable for a robbery which took place at his business. Vennells’ emails at the time were brought up, including her raising the question of a history of mental health issues by claiming she had heard about previous issues. However when questioned, she had no recollection of where she had heard it before.

5. Concerns over press coverage

While some journalists, including Convenience Store’s Jac Roper, have been covering Horizon cases for many years, it hadn’t made national news yet. Communication between senior Post Office officials advised Vennells to limit the timeframe for cases to review so as to limit coverage and not be “on the front page”.

6. What role did the NFSP play?

Correspondence between the National Federation of Subpostmasters (NFSP) and the Post Office was also flagged, including an email exchange surrounding Alan Bates and the Justice for Subpostmasters Alliance labelling concerns over Horizon as “rubbish” and the then general secretary George Thomson stating “obviously I will tell him Horizon is secure and robust and to go away. Just keeping [Post Office] in the loop”.

The NFSP has since distanced itself from Thomson’s comments. In a statement, it said: “The NFSP of today does not and cannot support the words, decisions and actions of the former NFSP general secretary, George Thomson, heard at yesterday’s Inquiry. The comments made in an email to Nick Beal and Paula Vennells in December 2012 and read out at the Inquiry were deplorable and unacceptable and we apologise unreservedly to all victims and their families.

“It is evident that Mr Thomson should have listened with an open mind to those trying to shine a light on the Horizon IT problems.

“While in the early days, it might have seemed unlikely to be Horizon that was at fault, by at least 2010 there should have been a strong questioning of the Post Office line. By the time of the Second Sight Interim Report, it should have been clear and obvious to all representative bodies involved that there was something wrong.”

7. Selective language

Discussions between Vennells and her “computer literate” husband revealed that she asked him for a “non-emotive word for computer bugs, glitches, defects that happen as a matter of course”. He responded with “exception or anomaly”. Vennells admits she should have used the word ‘bugs’ to describe the situation.