Ex-Post Office boss Paula Vennells breaks down during Horizon scandal grilling as she apologises to subpostmasters

22 May 2024, 10:36 | Updated: 22 May 2024, 12:23

Shamed ex-Post Office boss Paula Vennells breaks down in tears as she apologises to Horizon victims
Shamed ex-Post Office boss Paula Vennells breaks down in tears as she apologises to Horizon victims. Picture: Horizon Inquiry/Alamy

By Kit Heren

Former Post Office boss Paula Vennells has broken down in tears, after apologising for her role in the Horizon scandal that saw hundreds of sub-postmasters prosecuted.

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Appearing at the central London inquiry on Wednesday for the first of three days of giving evidence, Ms Vennells burst into tears as she was asked why she told MPs that every prosecution involving Horizon had worked out in the Post Office's favour.

"I fully accept now that the Post Office knew that, I completely accept it," she said, her voice wavering. "Personally I didn't know it and I'm incredibly sorry it happened to those people and so many others."

Questions have been raised about how much Ms Vennells, who helmed the Post Office from 2012-2019, knew about the IT scandal that saw hundreds of sub-postmasters wrongly prosecuted over several years.

Ms Vennells, who has not previously spoken publicly about the scandal, also apologised to the post-masters affected.

And she broke down again when discussing former sub-postmaster Martin Griffiths, who died in hospital after trying to take his own life in 2013.

She said she was "so sorry Mr Griffiths isn't here today" as she reached for a tissue again.

Former Post Office boss Paula Vennells (centre) arrives to give evidence to the Post Office Horizon IT inquiry at Aldwych House, central London. Picture date: Wednesday May 22, 2024.
Former Post Office boss Paula Vennells (centre) arrives to give evidence to the Post Office Horizon IT inquiry at Aldwych House, central London. Picture date: Wednesday May 22, 2024. Picture: Alamy

She said: "I would just like to say, and I'm grateful for the opportunity to do this, how sorry I am for all that sub-postmasters and their families and others have suffered as a result of all of the matters that the inquiry is looking into.

"I followed and listened to all of the human impact statements and I was very affected by them."

She also denied there had been a conspiracy against her - and said she had "no sense" that Post Office staff had denied her critical information.

Counsel to the inquiry Jason Beer KC asked her if there was "a conspiracy at the Post Office, which lasted for nearly 12 years, involving a wide range of people, differing over time, to deny you information and to deny you documents and to falsely give you reassurance".

Read more: Ex-Post Office boss Paula Vennells formally stripped of CBE by King Charles

Read more: Former Post Office boss Paula Vennells refuses to answer questions on Horizon scandal as she's confronted at church

Paula Vennells
Paula Vennells. Picture: YouTube

Ms Vennells replied: "No, I don't believe that was the case", adding: "I have been disappointed particularly more recently listening to evidence of the inquiry where I think I remember people knew more than perhaps either they remembered at the time or I knew of at the time.

"I have no sense that there was any conspiracy at all. My deep sorrow in this is that I think that individuals, myself included, made mistakes, didn't see things, didn't hear things.

"I may be wrong but that wasn't the impression that I had at the time, I have more questions now but a conspiracy feels too far fetched."

Asked if she was the unluckiest CEO in the United Kingdom," Ms Vennells asked: "As the inquiry has heard, there was information I wasn't given and others didn't receive as well.

"One of my reflections of all of this - I was too trusting. I did probe and I did ask questions and I'm disappointed where information wasn't shared and it has been a very important time for me... to plug some of those gaps."

Former Post Office boss Paula Vennells arrives to give evidence to the Post Office Horizon IT inquiry at Aldwych House, central London. Picture date: Wednesday May 22, 2024.
Former Post Office boss Paula Vennells arrives to give evidence to the Post Office Horizon IT inquiry at Aldwych House, central London. Picture date: Wednesday May 22, 2024. Picture: Alamy

One of the questions Ms Vennells could be asked later is if she misled parliament in 2015, when she told MPs that she hadn't seen of any evidence of miscarriages of justice.

But in 2013, a barrister had warned the Post Office that there had been problems with past prosecutions.

Her appearance at the inquiry came not long after a historic email surfaced which showed her describing potential wrongful convictions of sub-postmasters as "very disturbing" - more than a year before prosecutions were halted.

As she arrived at the inquiry, journalists asked her if she was a liar, and pressed her for more details on her role in the scandal.

But she refused to speak, and simply smiled faintly as police officers ushered her into the inquiry through a tight crowd of reporters and photographers jostling round her.

Paula Vennells
Paula Vennells. Picture: Alamy

The Post Office denied there were any problems with the Horizon accounting system. which made it appear that money was missing and let to a spate of wrongful convictions of sub-postmasters.

More than 900 were wrongly prosecuted between 1999 and 2015. Some were even jailed for theft and false accounting.

Ms Vennells has been a figurehead for wrongdoing during the Horizon scandal, and was stripped of her CBE earlier this year for bringing the honours system into disrepute.

She had earlier announced she would give it up voluntarily after a petition garnered more than a million signatures.

Ms Vennells said in January: "I continue to support and focus on co-operating with the inquiry...

"I have so far maintained my silence as I considered it inappropriate to comment publicly while the inquiry remains ongoing and before I have provided my oral evidence...

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"I am truly sorry for the devastation caused to the sub-postmasters and their families, whose lives were torn apart by being wrongly accused and wrongly prosecuted as a result of the Horizon system.

"I now intend to continue to focus on assisting the inquiry and will not make any further public comment until it has concluded.

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