Petition to Strip Shamed Post Office Boss of CBE Hits One Million
A petition calling for former Post Office CEO Paula Vennells to be stripped of her CBE has now hit one million signatures, piling pressure on Rishi Sunak to intervene.
Vennells was awarded the honour in 2019, despite presiding over the Horizon IT scandal that saw hundreds of sub-postmasters wrongly prosecuted between 1999 and 2015. She has refused to relinquish the CBE voluntarily.
The figure has quickly risen after the ITV drama Mr Bates vs The Post Office shone a light on the IT scandal that led to hundreds of workers’ lives being ruined and wrongfully convicted. Families were destroyed, and reputations shattered. Four suicides were linked to the scandal.
Focus is intensifying on Vennells’ central role in the scandal, as Post Office CEO for seven years until 2019. Despite warnings over Horizon’s flaws, she failed to halt prosecutions or properly investigate.
Instead, Vennells oversaw a regime that ruthlessly pursued sub-postmasters for false accounting and theft. Lives were ruined, families destroyed and reputations shattered.
Yet astonishingly, months after resigning from the Post Office, she was awarded a CBE for “services to the Post Office and charity.” This despite allowing prosecutions to continue based on the faulty Horizon system.
A deep dive into vennells career reviels some disturbing insights…
Equally disturbing is that in 2019 Vennells was named a non-executive board member of the Cabinet Office. She quit just before a critical Commons debate into the scandal last year.
Paula Vennells started her career with Unilever and L’Oreal. She became the Chief Executive of Post Office Limited in 2012. She was Group Commercial Director for Whitbread Plc and held directorships in sales and marketing with several of the UK’s largest retailers, including Dixons Stores Group and Argos.
Vennells remained chair of a major NHS trust until late 2021. That such a discredited figure held these positions beggars belief, given the Post Office scandal’s profile.
She also held the positions of Non-Executive Director of Morrisons Plc, a member of the government’s Financial Inclusion Policy Forum and of the Ethical Investment Advisory Group for the Church of England. She is believed to have also quit these rolls in 2021.
Vennells, who formerly served as a parish priest, left the Post Office with a CBE for services to the organisation with a £389,000 golden handshake.
Granting Vennells a CBE months after her resignation from the Post Office now seems grossly inappropriate. There is and always was a problem with the cronyism inherent in the honours system. However, if there is any honour to be found in Westminster, then justice demands that honours bestowed on those who betray public trust must be revoked.
However, it does highlight the corruption inherent in Westminster…
The petition coincides with the Post Office scandal returning to the political spotlight. Backbench MPs are forcing a Commons debate this week, demanding tougher accountability for those responsible.
Ed Davey the former Post Office minister is also under the spotlight. All this happened on Davey’s watch. For two years, from 2010 to 2012, he served as Postal Affairs Minister in the coalition government. This period coincided with the growing realisation that sub-postmasters had become victims of a terrible injustice perpetrated by the Post Office.
Flaws in the Post Office’s Horizon IT system caused unexplained financial losses in sub-postmasters’ accounts. Yet rather than investigating, the Post Office accused them of theft and false accounting, ruthlessly pursuing criminal prosecutions.
In May 2010, shortly after his appointment as Minister, Davey was contacted by Alan Bates, of the Justice for Subpostmasters Alliance (JFSA). Mr Bates, who had lost his own Post Office contract after questioning Horizon’s defects, pleaded with Davey to meet campaigners and hear their stories.
The correspondence also reveal Sir Ed was warned 12 years ago that legal action against the Post Office over the scandal could leave the taxpayer exposed to “astronomical” costs. Mr Bates warned him of the huge potential “financial liability” in a 2011 letter – one of at least five letters sent to Sir Ed between 2010 and 2012, according to the Sunday Times.
Most damning of all is how Davey later personally profited from the scandal. In 2017, the year sub-postmasters launched group litigation against the Post Office, Davey became a highly paid consultant to law firm Herbert Smith Freehills (HSF). HSF were hired by the Post Office to aggressively fight the litigation.
For this work, Davey pocketed an astonishing £275,000 over five years, until January 2022. That’s £833 an hour for his services. So while sub-postmasters battled for justice, their former Minister who ignored them was now on the Post Office’s payroll by default.
Mr Bates expresses astonishment at Davey’s earnings from an organisation JFSA was fighting. He asks why Davey remains silent on his role in the scandal, rather than using his platform to demand justice.
The Lib Dems insist that when Davey took up his consultancy with HSF he had no knowledge of the Post Office connection. A spokesman for the party said: ‘Ed had no knowledge that HSF held this account and never had any conversations about the Post Office or Horizon scandal at any occasion with HSF.
There are also calls for all convictions to be quashed and for the Post Office to be stripped of handling the appeals process. Rishi Sunak pledged action on both fronts this week.
Granting Vennells a CBE months after her resignation was grossly inappropriate.
The petition, which is addressed to Sir Chris Wormald, the chair of the Forfeiture Committee, says: “Evidence has been produced that the Post Office engaged in a mass cover up which led to the wrongful prosecution of 550 Post Office Staff many of whom were subsequently jailed, bankrupted and in some cases, sadly took their own lives.
“Having been handed a CBE for services to the Post Office, and moved out into other senior positions in government and healthcare, it is only right that this award is now withdrawn through the process of forfeiture.”
By crossing the one million threshold, the petition provides a stark demonstration of the depth of public feeling. The clamour will likely prove hard for the government to ignore.
With criminal probes underway into potential Post Office fraud, those in charge may finally face real consequences. For too long, lack of accountability has compounded the suffering of victims.
Scotland Yard confirmed on Friday evening that officers are “investigating potential fraud offences arising out of these prosecutions”, for example “monies recovered from sub-postmasters as a result of prosecutions or civil actions”.
The Met has already been looking into potential offences of perjury and perverting the course of justice in relation to investigations and prosecutions carried out by the Post Office.
Two people have been interviewed under caution but nobody has been arrested since the investigation was launched in January 2020.
The CBE was granted to laud Vennells’ public service. Ironically, its removal may prove the ultimate symbol of long overdue justice for those she failed so badly.