One of the biggest miscarriages of justice in Britain — the Post Office IT scandal which destroyed the lives of hundreds of sub-postmasters — implicates a whole lot of people, including top executives and ministers. But there is one person who presided over this appalling affair, and it is the former Post Office boss Paula Vennells.
Vennells was given a CBE for services to the Post Office and now MPs are asking for its withdrawal. It’s not enough, not nearly enough. The decisions she took destroyed the good names of people who were formerly pillars of their community; a couple of them took their own lives.
But you know what always happens. Ministers parrot the formula: “Lessons should and will be learnt to ensure this never happens again.” You know who tweeted that? A man who can use plain language: the Prime Minister. It is not often you can call grammar evil but the use of the passive voice here, “lessons will be learned”, is a dishonest way of avoiding saying who, precisely, is learning the lessons and what follows.
You know what else happens? The taxpayer takes the rap. The compensation to the victims will rightly be enormous and if the Post Office can’t afford to pay, the taxpayer will. A funny kind of privatised company, isn’t it? Let me tell you what should follow. Obviously, Vennells should lose her CBE, but she should also have to repay the £4.2 million payoff she took when she stepped down as boss. That should go straight into the compensation fund.
The Communication Workers Union is calling for criminal investigations into senior Post Office executives’ conduct. There are offences relating to the wrongful initiation of criminal proceedings and the Crown Prosecution should be on it. Ministers who presided over the Post Office, including former business secretary Sir Vince Cable, should also be held to account — a judge-led inquiry is just too lengthy.
Interestingly, the Bishop of St Albans, Vennells’s boss in her other role as a Church of England minister, did try to get her sacked. He is the son of a sub-postmistress and he sought legal advice about depriving her of ministry. She now says she is truly sorry for what she did. Well, repentance isn’t enough. We need punishment.