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Vennells accused of false statement on postmasters

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Former Post Office boss Paula Vennells has been accused of previously making a "false statement" about the outcomes of sub-postmasters' court cases.
The inquiry into the Horizon IT scandal heard Ms Vennells wrote to a government minister in 2012: "In every instance, the court has found in our favour."
Counsel to the inquiry Jason Beer KC said: "It's just not true."
Ms Vennells has been asked to comment and previously said she was co-operating with the inquiry.
She is due to give evidence to the inquiry in May.
On Wednesday, the inquiry was taking evidence from Lord Arbuthnot, a long-time campaigner for the sub-postmasters. He first got involved with their cases in 2009, when he met former sub-postmaster Jo Hamilton at a constituency coffee morning.
Since then, he has continued to speak out on behalf of victims and sits on the Horizon Compensation Advisory Board, which advises the government financial redress for those affected.
The inquiry heard that in a 2012 letter to MP Oliver Letwin, Ms Vennells wrote: "In some cases, which are fortunately very few and far between, we have had to prosecute sub-postmasters for theft or false accounting and provide evidence which substantiates our legal position.
"In every instance, the court has found in our favour."
Counsel to the inquiry Jason Beer KC said: "Now, that's a false statement there, that in every instance the courts have found in our favour. It's just not true."
He asked Lord Arbuthnot if he would have known at the time that it may have been a false statement, to which he replied: "No, I wouldn't."
Lord Arbuthnot added that he would have accepted the statement at face value and would have expected public officials such as Ms Vennells would tell the truth.
Mr Beer also asked Lord Arbuthnot whether Post Office officials had disclosed a long list of cases which found bugs within the IT system, and listed a number of specific cases in which postmasters had been acquitted. Lord Arbuthnot answered: "No."
In an earlier statement to the press, Ms Vennells said: "I continue to fully support and focus on co-operating with the inquiry and it would be inappropriate for me to comment further while it remains ongoing."
Between 1999 and 2015, hundreds of sub-postmasters were wrongly prosecuted by the Post Office due to faulty Horizon software, which showed errors that did not exist.
Some lost their jobs, businesses and homes. Many were left financially ruined. Others were convicted and sent to prison and some died while waiting for justice.
Sir Anthony Hooper, who was chairman of the Post Office's mediation scheme, told the inquiry on Wednesday that the wrongful prosecutions were "the greatest scandal that I have ever seen in the criminal justice process".
"We've had many miscarriages of justice but nowhere as many as these," he said.
Earlier, Lord Arbuthnot, a former Conservative MP, said he had received the "brush off" from Ms Vennells in a letter she wrote to him defending the Horizon IT system.
The inquiry was told how in December 2011, Lord Arbuthnot wrote to the Post Office and the government saying the situation with the Horizon IT system had not been rectified and needed further investigation.
He received a response the following month from Ms Vennells in which she said there was "no evidence to support any of the allegations [from former sub-postmasters]"
"We have no reason to doubt the integrity of the system, which we remain confident is robust and fit for purpose," the letter from Ms Vennells said.
In his witness statement, Lord Arbuthnot said: "At this stage I did not know the truth of the matter but it was clear that a detailed investigation was needed."
He said the sub-postmasters he had met "seemed to me to be transparently honest".
"I was therefore not satisfied with the brush off I was getting by way of reply to my letters," he added.
In another letter seen by the inquiry on Wednesday, Ms Vennells denied there were any problems with Horizon, saying it had been "rigorously tested".
She wrote: "The Post Office takes very seriously any perception that there is an issue with the accuracy of the Horizon system: there isn't.
"The Horizon system has been rigorously tested using independent assessors and robust procedures."
The inquiry was shown minutes from a May 2012 meeting with MPs, including Lord Arbuthnot.
The notes read: "It appears that some subpostmasters have been borrowing money from the Post Office account/till in the same way they might do in a retail business, but this is not how the Post Office works. Post Office cash is public money and the Post Office must recover it if any goes missing."
Mr Beer asked Lord Arbuthnot whether he agreed that a "fair" summary of this meeting was that "the problem is that a small number of postmasters borrow money from the till. The problem is not Horizon. Every prosecution involving Horizon has found in favour of the Post Office".
Lord Arbuthnot replied: "Yes."
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