Former Post Office CEO Held Private Dinners with MPs Amid Horizon IT Scandal

Former Post Office CEO Paula Vennells held private dinners with MPs and opposed halting prosecutions of sub-postmasters despite warnings about Horizon IT system's flaws, inquiry reveals.

Trim Correspondents
New Update
Former Post Office CEO Held Private Dinners with MPs Amid Horizon IT Scandal

Former Post Office CEO Held Private Dinners with MPs Amid Horizon IT Scandal

Paula Vennells, the former CEO of the Post Office, held private dinners with MPs in early 2013 as part of a communications strategy, according to newly revealed documents. The dinners took place amidst the unfolding Horizon IT scandal, which led to the wrongful conviction of hundreds of sub-postmasters based on evidence from the faulty Horizon software system.

In November 2013, Chris Aujard, an interim appointee at the Post Office, recommended that the organization stop prosecuting sub-postmasters. However, Vennells later intervened and said that the Post Office should continue to undertake some prosecutions, contrary to the earlier Executive Committee decision. Aujard also failed to provide important information about Horizon's bugs and security issues to the Post Office's legal firm and attempted to limit the scope of the Second Sight investigation into the Horizon IT system and Post Office business processes.

The inquiry heard testimony from Aujard, who said he had recommended ceasing private prosecutions, but Vennells opposed stopping limited prosecutorial activity. Vennells was also advised by a Conservative peer in 2013 to halt prosecutions until the Post Office could prove sub-postmaster accounts could not be accessed remotely. The inquiry revealed that Vennells sought advice from her husband on how to use less 'emotive' language around 'bugs' in the Horizon IT system, with the Post Office subsequently using the term 'exception' instead.

Why this matters: The Horizon IT scandal has had devastating consequences for hundreds of wrongfully convicted sub-postmasters and their families. The inquiry's findings shed light on the role of top executives in the handling of the scandal and their response to internal recommendations to halt prosecutions.

Vennells has apologized for the devastation caused to the sub-postmasters and their families and is cooperating with the inquiry. The inquiry also heard from former Post Office lawyers, who criticized the manner in which sub-postmasters were being prosecuted and the dismissal of the independent forensic accountants, Second Sight, who played a key role in exposing the scandal. Vennells is set to appear before the inquiry in May as it continues to investigate the Horizon scandal.

Key Takeaways

  • Vennells, ex-CEO of Post Office, held private dinners with MPs amid Horizon IT scandal.
  • Vennells opposed stopping prosecutions of sub-postmasters despite recommendations to halt them.
  • Vennells sought advice to use less 'emotive' language around Horizon IT system 'bugs'.
  • Inquiry revealed Vennells dismissed proposal to halt sub-postmaster prosecutions.
  • Vennells to appear before inquiry as it investigates the Horizon IT scandal.