The fall from grace of ex-priest and Post Office boss Paula Vennells

Former Post Office CEO Paula Vennells left the organisation with a huge payout and a CBE, but has fallen from grace following the unravelling of a cover-up on her watch.

She has since become a household name after ITV’s dramatisation of the Post Office Horizon scandal.

Vennells joined the Post Office in 2007 and was CEO from 2012 to 2019, a period when Post Office executives attempted to hide problems with the Horizon system and the egregious mistreatment they doled out to the people running its public-facing business.

She was an Anglican priest, has held non-executive directorships at large UK businesses, and became chair at Imperial College NHS Trust after leaving the Post Office in disgrace with a pocket full of bonus payments.

When Vennells left the Post Office, the organisation had just lost a High Court battle against subpostmasters and blown £100m of taxpayer money in the process. The case proved that subpostmasters had been wrongly blamed, and in many cases prosecuted, for accounting shortfalls caused by computer errors. She still managed, in 2019, to be awarded a CBE for services to the Post Office.

If Vennells needed an introduction, evidence last week from a former colleague set the scene for the controversial figure. Post Office chief financial officer (CFO) Alisdair Cameron told the inquiry last week that in all the time he knew Vennells at the Post Office, from him joining in 2015 to her leaving in 2019, she never believed there were any miscarriages of justice in cases where subpostmasters had been prosecuted and convicted of crimes based on evidence from the error-prone Horizon software used in branches.

Over 100 subpostmasters have had wrongful convictions overturned since the first in 2021, and hundreds more will follow, after the government introduced unprecedented legislation to quash their convictions en masse.

Monumental significance

Solicitor Neil Hudgell – founder of Hudgell Solicitors, which represents hundreds of scandal victims – said the week ahead is of monumental significance.

“It is not for me to speculate on what evidence Ms Vennells may give to the inquiry, but as the operational head of the organisation it is for her to take ownership and accountability for what went on during her term of office,” he said. “Witness after witness to this inquiry have failed to shed any meaningful light on what went wrong and why. Instead, we have had a consistent pattern of stories of regret, buck-passing, spin and serial amnesia.

“Victims of this scandal are re-traumatised every time they hear denial, untruth or subterfuge, and can’t begin to move on without answers, accountability and genuinely expressed regret and sorrow”

Vennells is a name that stokes anger among subpostmasters, and her appearance at the Post Office scandal statutory public inquiry will inevitably be headline news in the days to come.

Here are 10 must-read Computer Weekly stories on Vennells

1. Vennells’ biggest failing was to prevent miscarriages of justice, therefore it’s apt to revisit the damning indictment of her from the chair of the Criminal Cases Review Commission, Helen Pitcher. She said Vennells has no excuse for her inaction.

Post Office CEO either knew what was going on in Horizon scandal, or was ‘asleep at the wheel’

2. She was awarded bonuses worth hundreds of thousands of pounds in her final year at the organisation. Campaigning former subpostmaster Alan Bates said the payments were inhumane.

Ex-Post Office CEO Paula Vennells walked away from IT scandal with over £400,000 in pay and bonuses

3. To counteract a Computer Weekly investigation that revealed the problems subpostmasters were experiencing with the Horizon computer system, Vennells sent out a company-wide email, according to a former executive.

Paula Vennells’ email fuelled Post Office Horizon cult, inquiry told

4. The former CEO refused to meet a government minister without a lawyer in 2015 when he insisted on a briefing to discuss the damaging findings of a landmark investigation into the Post Office Horizon system.

Post Office CEO refused to meet government minister without her lawyer after 2015 Horizon report

5. She even asked her husband for advice on how to refer to Horizon bugs in an attempt to downplay the anticipated findings of an independent review of the software.

Post Office boss used husband’s descriptions in ‘Orwellian’ ploy to downplay Horizon problems

6. Despite the weight of evidence, Vennells never stopped believing there were no miscarriages of justice, despite one of the biggest scandals in UK legal history unfolding under her watch.

Post Office CEO Paula Vennells ‘didn’t believe there were miscarriages of justice’, inquiry told

7. She failed to practice what she preached in the Post Office scandal, according to campaigner Reverend Richard Coles.

Reverend Richard Cole’s says Paula Vennells failed to practice what she preached.

8. Following a public uproar, Vennells had her CBE formally removed by the King.

King Charles strips disgraced Post Office CEO of her CBE 

9. Vennells was appointed chair of an NHS trust when she left the Post Office, despite the organisation’s treatment of subpostmasters under her leadership. She was eventually forced to step down as public and political scrutiny grew.

Post Office IT scandal CEO Paula Vennells jumps NHS ship as pressure mounts

10. Vennells stepped down from two business roles and as an associate Church of England minister after the Court of Appeal ruled that the organisation she ran for seven years from 2012 had prosecuted innocent people.

Post Office scandal CEO steps down from roles after massive miscarriage of justice is laid bare

The Post Office Horizon scandal was first exposed by Computer Weekly in 2009, revealing the stories of seven subpostmasters and the problems they suffered due to accounting software (see below for timeline of Computer Weekly articles about the scandal, since 2009).

• Also read: What you need to know about the Horizon scandal

• Also watch: ITV’s documentary – Mr Bates vs The Post Office: The real story


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