'I have earned my keep': Post Office inquiry hears ex-boss altered key document

Former Post Office boss Paula Vennells has admitted to amending the legal document Royal Mail issued to would-be investors before it became publicly owned to remove mention of the flawed Horizon IT system.

Data from the accounting software created by Fujitsu was used to prosecute more than 700 sub-postmasters for theft and false accounting.

Many more victims lost their homes, livelihoods and good reputations to repay non-existent shortfalls.

'Last minute changes' to Royal Mail prospectus removing Horizon reference

Now the inquiry set up to establish a clear account of the introduction and failure of Horizon has heard during Ms Vennells's third and final day of questioning that she removed "at the very last minute" reference to Horizon from the prospectus Royal Mail issued before it was listed on the London Stock Exchange.

A prospectus is a legal and financial document detailing key information for potential company investors.

It was the first time the issue was raised with Ms Vennells.

She said: "It was flagged to me that in the IT section of the Royal Mail prospectus, there was reference to - I can't remember the words now - but risks related to the Horizon IT system... the line that was put in said that no systemic issues had been found with the Horizon system."

Ms Vennells wanted the reference removed as, "the Horizon system was no longer anything to do with the Royal Mail group" she said, and contacted the company secretary to have the reference removed.

'Earned my keep' in the Post Office split and Royal Mail listing

Based on this action Ms Vennells wrote to a colleague "I have earned my keep on this".

Had Horizon bugs been known at the time Ms Vennells agreed that the Royal Mail could not have been made private.

"Wrongful Royal Mail prosecutions would have stopped it floating [on the London Stock Exchange] I'm sure that would have been the case", she said.

Post Office and Royal Mail had been one organisation before they were separated in 2012, so some Horizon prosecutions were undertaken by Royal Mail.

Earning her CBE?

Legal counsel questioning her suggested it was her good work with the separation of Royal Mail and the return of Post Office profit ability that earned her a CBE (commander of the British empire).

Ms Vennells returned her CBE before it was eventually removed.

She was at the top of Post Office for 12 years and served as its chief executive for seven of those, from 2012 to 2019.

In a sometimes emotional testimony, Ms Vennells said she "loved the Post Office" and worked "as hard as I possibly could to deliver the best Post Office for the UK".

Accepting responsibility?

When asked if she was responsible for her own downfall she said she has not been employed since 2019.

"I lost all the employment that I have had. And since that time I have only worked on this inquiry. It has been really important to me to do what I didn't or was unable to do at the time I was chief executive and I have worked for the last three years and prioritised this above anything else," she said.

"For the last year it has probably been a full time job and it is my commitment, I have avoided talking to the press, perhaps to my own detriment, because all the way through I have put this first."

Belief-shattering facts

In denying a barrister's charge that she gave a "craven self-serving account" Ms Vennells said as CEO "You are not responsible for everything that happens... You have to rely on the advice of internal and external experts."

Detail on the numerous Horizon flaws Ms Vennells was aware of was presented to the inquiry by victims' barrister Sam Stein KC.

"This was an entire collection of Horizon belief-shattering facts that were a direct attack upon the very basic system that supported the Post Office, all of these coming one after another," he said.

"Bang, bang, bang! Attacking the Horizon system. By the end of 2013, you could have been in no doubt, Ms Vennells, that the Horizon system needed investigation, needed inquiry, needed a deep investigation and review."


The regular refrain from Ms Vennells throughout the days of hearings was that she trusted the people she worked with, was not given detail by them and lacked the technical know how to be across IT minutiae.

She said she was perhaps "too trusting".

On Friday she was asked for the specific names of people she placed that trust in and listed past Post Office executives.

"You distance yourself time and time again. You blame these mysterious other people for not telling you the truth," Mr Stein said.