Home Business Key points from day one of Paula Vennells at Horizon inquiry as sub-postmasters and a top executive don't believe answers

Key points from day one of Paula Vennells at Horizon inquiry as sub-postmasters and a top executive don't believe answers

by news

At a gathering in Fenny Compton village hall in Warwickshire, where dozens of sub-postmasters met for the first time in 2009 as they began their fight for justice, there were moments of laughter as the woman who was the CEO of Post Office Ltd was quizzed at the inquiry.
Business reporter
Wednesday 22 May 2024 22:17, UK
Please use Chrome browser for a more accessible video player

The chief campaigner for justice over the Post Office Horizon IT scandal says he has „no sympathy” for Paul Vennells following her first day in the witness box at the public inquiry.
Alan Bates told reporters outside the hearing that the former Post Office chief executive’s apology, in which he was namechecked, „was just words”.
It was just one highlight in a day of tough questions for Ms Vennells, who sub-postmasters accuse of presiding over a cover-up that saw the wrongful prosecution of more than 700 of their number.
Read more:
Key questions ex-Post Office boss must answer
Paula Vennells breaks down in tears during questioning

Many died in debt trying to vain to clear their names. Some took their own lives.
Ms Vennells, who was chief executive from 2012 to 2019, said her key failing was that she was „too trusting” of those working under her, insisting that their responses to her questions guided her own handling of the accounting software debacle.
But it emerged during the hearing on Wednesday that her account about what she knew – and when – was not believed by the former CEO of Royal Mail.
Post Office Inquiry podcast: ‘I don’t believe a word,’ sub-postmasters say as Paula Vennells faces questioning
Former Post Office boss Paula Vennells hands over 50 new documents ahead of scandal inquiry appearance
Ex-Post Office head of IT says Paula Vennells ‘hoped to avoid’ inquiry – and reveals she blocked her number
Widely not believed
The inquiry heard that Dame Moya Greene, the former Royal Mail CEO whom Ms Vennells worked alongside for many years, texted Ms Vennells in January of this year to express her disbelief at the wrongdoing denials.
Ms Vennells has long maintained – and reiterated on Wednesday – that she was unaware of the extent of flaws with Fujitsu’s Horizon software.
Sub-postmasters listening to the inquiry in the Fenny Compton village hall in Warwickshire, where dozens of sub-postmasters met for the first time in 2009 as they began their fight for justice, also said they did not believe Ms Vennells.
„She is blatantly, utterly lying, and it’s got to stop,” former sub-postmaster Sally Stringer told Sky News.
Dame Moya texted Ms Vennells after the airing of the ITV drama Mr Bates Vs The Post Office, which reinvigorated interest in the scandal, saying: „When it was clear the system was at fault, the Post Office should have raised a red flag. Stopped all proceedings. Given people back their money, and then tried to compensate them from the ruin this caused in their lives.”
When Ms Vennells replied that she agreed, Dame Moya said: „I don’t know what to say. I think you knew.
„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?” her text said.
Keep up with all the latest news from the UK and around the world by following Sky News
Why she says she didn’t know
The question of how it was that she couldn’t have known was taken up by the inquiry’s lead barrister, Jason Beer KC.
Ms Vennells’ core argument emerged early in questioning: she said she wasn’t informed of bugs because of the way information flowed within the organisation. She accepted that as CEO she was in charge of how information was communicated.
„I was too trusting,” she said.
Emotional testimony
Ms Vennells broke down in tears numerous times during her evidence, the first of which was when Mr Beer read out details of sub-postmasters who were not convicted, as juries accepted there were flaws with Horizon.
The inquiry had just been presented with evidence of Ms Vennells telling MPs in 2012, „every case taken to prosecution has found in favour of the Post Office. There hasn’t been a case investigated where the Horizon system has been found to be at fault”.
This belief, Ms Vennells said, was „a representation of the information that I was given” rather than proof of an unwavering belief that nothing had gone wrong.
Be the first to get Breaking News
Install the Sky News app for free
‘Wait and see’ accusation
Criticism came from Mr Beer over the fulsomemess of Ms Vennells’ cumulative 798-page witness statement.
He asked if she was adopting a „wait and see” approach: „Let’s see what comes out in evidence. See what I’ve got to admit and then I’ll admit that?
„Given you provided a 775-page witness statement that took seven months to write, could you not have reflected on what you should have done fully and differently within the witness statement?” he added.
Ms Vennells’ statement said that with the benefit of hindsight, there were „many things” she should have „done differently”, but she would wait for the inquiry to conclude to expand on that detail.
But she denied adopting a „wait and see” approach.
Rather, „It was simply a matter of time,” she said. „The inquiry asked me, I think, over 600 questions – 200 or 300 with subquestions in each. I went through probably hundreds of thousands of documents.”
Evidence to Parliament in 2015
A major question going into the inquiry was how Ms Vennells was able to tell Parliament in 2015 there was „no evidence” of „miscarriages of justice”.
On Wednesday morning, Ms Vennells said that was what she had been told „multiple times” by Fujitsu – that nothing had been found in Horizon.
Comic relief
Back in the village hall in Fenny Compton, there were moments of laughter when Mr Beer asked Ms Vennells if she was „the unluckiest CEO in the United Kingdom?”
His question was asked „in the light of the information that you tell us in your witness statement you weren’t given… the documents that you tell us in your witness statement that you didn’t see… and in the light of the assurances that you tell us about in your witness statement that you were given by Post Office staff”.
‘Exculpatory’ remembering
Another line of questioning from Mr Beer was that Ms Vennells had a better memory of events and records that made her and the Post Office look good, and a worse recollection of things that made her and her organisation look bad.
„Why is it that in your witness statement, when you refer to a recollection of a conversation that’s unminuted, undocumented, not referred to in any email there are always things that exculpate you that reduce your blameworthiness?” he asked.
That wasn’t her approach, Ms Vennells said.
Signing off a £300,000 legal bill to go after a £25,000 loss?
Sub-postmasters and those following the scandal likely will be listening out to see if Ms Vennells approved the legal bill to prosecute Lee Castleton, who was featured as a victim in the ITV drama.
Earlier this month, former managing director Alan Cook told the inquiry Ms Vennells approved legal costs of £300,000 to prosecute Mr Castleton for a supposed £25,000 shortfall when she was a network director at the Post Office.


Related Posts