Paula Vennells cries at Post Office scandal inquiry and admits evidence to MPs was untrue

Paula Vennells repeatedly burst into tears during her first appearance at the Post Office Horizon IT Inquiry as she mounted a desperate bid to salvage her reputation.

The disgraced former boss of the Post Office offered an apology to subpostmasters caught up in the scandal, dubbed the worst miscarriage of justice in British history.

But Ms Vennells, who ran the group from 2012 to 2019 as the scale of the scandal emerged, was blindsided by the inquiry’s lead counsel Jason Beer KC with a series of damning revelations about her time as chief executive.

Vennells was surrounded by police and press as she arrived at the inquiry (PA)
Vennells was surrounded by police and press as she arrived at the inquiry (PA)

‘She’ll never cry as I have’

In her first public appearance since 2015, Ms Vennells said one of her key reflections on the scandal, which saw hundreds of postmasters wrongly convicted of stealing after the group’s defective accounting system made it appear as though money was missing, was that she was “too trusting”.

She also admitted she had made a false statement to a parliamentary probe in 2012, but unintentionally.

“As the inquiry has heard, there was information I wasn’t given and others didn’t receive as well … I did probe and I did ask questions and I’m disappointed where information wasn’t shared,” Ms Vennells said.

But in a ruthless grilling that reduced her to tears at least three times:

  • Ms Vennells was accused of trying to “get on the front foot” after the suicide of a sacked subpostmaster

  • She apologised for saying subpostmasters had been “tempted to put their hands in the till”

  • Ms Vennells denied there was a conspiracy at the Post Office to keep information from her

  • The inquiry was shown a damning text message from ex-Royal Mail boss Moya Greene saying: “I think you knew”

  • It was revealed six more former Post Office workers have had their convictions quashed for offences including theft and fraud

The 65-year-old ordained vicar began the session by making an individual apology to campaigners Alan Bates, Ian Henderson, Ron Warmington and Lord Arbuthnot, as well as all those “who worked with them to secure justice for the subpostmasters”.

The ITV drama Mr Bates vs The Post Office brought a renewed focus on the scandal, while Lord Arbuthnot campaigned for the postmasters when he was an MP.

Mr Bates said Ms Vennells’s evidence was “like figure-skating on the head of a pin”.

Vennells repeatedly broke into tears during her testimony ((Post Office Horizon IT Inquiry/PA via AP))
Vennells repeatedly broke into tears during her testimony ((Post Office Horizon IT Inquiry/PA via AP))

Lee Castleton, from Bridlington, East Yorkshire, was found to have a £25,000 shortfall at his branch in 2004. He was made bankrupt after he lost his legal battle with the Post Office.

He said after her evidence: “She’ll never shed as many as I have, I’m afraid, or my family, or the rest of the victims or the wider group. “

‘I think you knew’

Ms Vennells was shown a damning exchange of text messages with Canadian-born Moya Greene, who was in charge of the Royal Mail for eight years.

“I think you knew,” Ms Greene told Ms Vennells, who replied “no Moya, that isn’t the case”.

But Ms Greene replied: “I want to believe you. I asked you twice. I suggested you get an independent review reporting to you. I was afraid you were being lied to. You said the system had already been reviewed multiple times. How could you not have known?”

Ms Vennells claimed the exchange was Ms Greene’s way of suggesting there was a conspiracy at the Post Office. “As I said, I did not believe that was the case,” Ms Vennells said.

Vennells was shown damning texts from ex-Royal Mail boss Moya Greene (Post Office Inquiry)
Vennells was shown damning texts from ex-Royal Mail boss Moya Greene (Post Office Inquiry)

Lives torn apart

In 1999, the defective Fujitsu IT system Horizon began incorrectly reporting cash shortfalls at branches across the country. The accusations tore people’s lives apart, with many losing their jobs and homes.

Several people took their own lives due to the stress.

No Post Office or Fujitsu employee has been held to account over the scandal, much less faced criminal investigation.

In another damaging set of exchanges, Ms Vennells was accused of asking her team to “dig into” the records of Martin Griffiths, who stepped in front of a bus after being sacked from his branch in 2013.

Mr Beer quizzed her about an email she sent suggesting she had heard about “previous mental health and family issues” and asking Post Office executives “what background we have on Martin”.

He said: “You had just been told about his death and were trying to get on the front foot here, weren’t you?”

He added: “You were tasking the team with finding out information to counter any narrative that the Post Office was to blame, weren’t you?”

Vennells was quizzed on emails following a man’s death (Channel 4)
Vennells was quizzed on emails following a man’s death (Channel 4)

Breaking down into tears for the second time of the hearing, Ms Vennells said she was trying to anticipate the questions the Post Office board and executives would ask.

She added: “I did know from previous examples and other information that… it doesn’t matter. I simply should not have said it. I should not have used these words.”

‘Just needs to tell the truth’

Ms Vennells broke into tears a third time during the inquiry amid a grilling about what she called “disturbing” reports from postmasters as the Horizon IT scandal unfolded.

Former postmaster Sushma Blaggan had her conviction quashed on Wednesday and attended the inquiry.

Husband Narrinder Blaggan said: “For Sushma to have appeared in court two decades after being wrongfully prosecuted, and for an inquiry only to be hearing from Ms Vennells as to what went wrong on the very same day, just shows how badly subpostmasters have been let down.”

He continued: “Sushma was destroyed by what happened to her. When she was first suspended, she tried to commit suicide, and then she did so again after she had been convicted.”

Mark Kelly, 45, who was a subpostmaster in Swansea from 2003 to 2006, said: “The apology I think was quite well rehearsed – the speech of the apology and also the response to the questions. The reason why I think the apology was more like a PR apology was because all these years she could have made an apology like that. Why did she have to wait until today to do that?”

Jess Kaur, 52, an ex-postmistress in Walsall, who was wrongly accused in 2009 of stealing £11,000, said: “I was just thinking to myself when she started crying that we were crying like that at the time. It was nice to see her tears, but at the same time she’s got a lot to answer for. She just needs to tell the truth.”