Tearful testimony confirms for many how much Post Office’s Vennells knew | Post Office Horizon scandal

Witnesses at the public hearing looking into the Horizon scandal could hardly avert from the poignant remarks by Moya Greene, the previous Royal Mail CEO, who had overseen Paula Vennells at the Post Office before its separation in 2012. Greene implicated Vennells’ knowing involvement in the affair, a sentiment echoed by a text exposed by the inquiry.

“I believe you were aware,” Greene had messaged Vennells earlier this January, as revealed by the inquiry.

Several days of emotional depositions from Vennells, who was a part of the Post Office since 2007 and its CEO from 2012 to 2019, solidified the belief among many regarding her prior awareness of the flaws in the organization’s Horizon IT system. This system induced unjust prosecutions and severe financial and personal tolls on innocent individuals due to fabricated financial discrepancies.

Jason Beer, the lead counsel for the inquiry, presented documents indicating that Vennells was briefed in 2011 on an Ernst and Young report that had flagged concerns over Fujitsu’s ability to remotely alter the Horizon system records. This raised pressing questions about the reliability of a system susceptible to external interference, and as late as 2015, Vennells assured a parliamentary committee that such remote alterations were not feasible—a claim mirrored by a colleague in court in 2019.

Confronted with these incriminating documents on display during the inquiry, Vennells claimed ignorance of the full implications of the 2011 report, as well as a similar warning that came across her desk in 2014.

The investigation also brought to light Vennells’ knowledge of no less than three software glitches in the Horizon system by mid-2013.

Although initially denying their existence, Vennells admitted that she had been reassured by staff that two issues were resolved and the third did not affect financial reporting in branches. Emails suggested she briefly considered a thorough audit of 500 false accounting cases in light of these admissions but was swiftly dissuaded.

“Publicly announcing a reevaluation of past cases, both recent and distant, would make big news,” Mark Davies, the director of communications, cautioned. “It would become a high-profile mainstream topic.”

“Your point is well-taken,” replied Vennells. “I’ll follow your leading on this, no objections.” She also highlighted controlling media coverage as a critical goal.

Moreover, by that summer, Vennells understood that the Post Office’s star expert, Gareth Jenkins from Fujitsu, considered before that to be a reliable witness, could no longer be trusted as he had concealed knowledge about the system’s flaws in court.

Under oath, Susan Crichton, the Post Office’s legal chief, claimed she had informed Vennells right before a key meeting in July that because of Jenkins’ compromised statements, they would likely face a surge of successful appeals from those wrongfully prosecuted in the past. Vennells expressed confusion over the significance of this revelation and denied such a discussion with Crichton.

Throughout Vennells’ testimony, those victimized by the Post Office struggled to maintain composure as she recounted her supposed unawareness.

The inquiry’s last day concluded with a collective expression of despair upon hearing an email from Vennells about a 2014 BBC’s One Show segment on the scandal.

“All hype and human interest,” Vennells dismissed. “I found it more tiresome than shocking. The parliamentarian they quoted was blustering and inaccurate. Jo Hamilton did not convey enough feeling and even admitted to false accounting on television,” she criticized.

Jo Hamilton, an innocent victim portrayed by Monica Dolan in a poignant TV drama, was previously accused of embezzling over £36,000. To evade jail, she entered a guilty plea to false accounting in 2006. Hamilton, just meters away from Vennells during the reading of the email, received a compelled apology from Vennells: “I am deeply sorry…I regret penning those words,” Vennells expressed.

Hamilton’s reflection after the apology was terse: “It didn’t feel genuine,” she recounted, feeling Vennells’ regret came only under the pressure of being exposed.

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