Post Office victim says 'the people have spoken' as Paula Vennells returns CBE

Amid mounting anger over her response to the Horizon scandal, former Post Office boss Paula Vennells gives back her CBE.

Paula Vennells was given a CBE in the 2019 New Years Honours. (PA)
Former Post Office boss Paula Vennells has announced she will hand back her CBE. (PA)

A former sub-postmistress who was wrongfully convicted in the Post Office scandal has said "the people have spoken" after its ex-boss handed back her CBE.

Paula Vennells, the chief executive of the Post Office during the scandal, announced on Tuesday she would give up her honour following days of public and political pressure.

A petition calling for her to be stripped of her Commander of the British Empire gong had reached more than 1.2 million signatures by Tuesday lunchtime in the wake of an ITV drama about the scandal broadcast last week.

More than 700 branch mangers were convicted of theft, fraud and false accounting between 1999 and 2015 based on faulty readings from Horizon software developed by Fujitsu. One of those wrongly convicted was former sub-postmistress Jo Hamilton, 66, falsely accused of stealing £36,000 from her branch in South Warnborough, Hampshire.

Reacting to Vennells's announcement, Hamilton said: “It shows the people have spoken – about everything really. I’m glad she’s given it back. It’s a shame it took just a million people to cripple her conscience.

“It’s not just about her CBE, it’s about how disgusting the whole thing is."

Hamilton, played by actor Monica Dolan in ITV's four-part drama, Mr Bates vs the Post Office, paid off incorrect shortfalls on her account with her own money and ended up remortgaging her house twice.

Former subpostmaster Jo Hamilton giving evidence to the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy committee of the subject of the Post Office and Horizon scandal. Picture date: Friday December 10, 2021. (Photo by House of Commons/PA Images via Getty Images)
Former sub-postmistress Jo Hamilton, pictured, has welcomed Paula Vennells's decision to hand back her CBE. (PA Images via Getty Images)

She was charged with theft but accepted a lesser charge of false accounting in February 2008, before her conviction was quashed in 2021.

She said: “We’re all sick and tired of people taking money, being paid exorbitant amounts of money, and politicians taking absolutely no notice of you whatsoever. I think the people are just sick of it.”

Vennells, who was given the CBE in the 2019 New Year Honours "for services to the Post Office and to charity", was the head of the company between 2012 and 2019.

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In a statement issued on Tuesday, Vennells said: “I have so far maintained my silence as I considered it inappropriate to comment publicly while the inquiry remains ongoing and before I have provided my oral evidence.

“I am, however, aware of the calls from sub-postmasters and others to return my CBE. I have listened and I confirm that I return my CBE with immediate effect. I am truly sorry for the devastation caused to the sub-postmasters and their families, whose lives were torn apart by being wrongly accused and wrongly prosecuted as a result of the Horizon system."

On Monday, Downing Street said prime minister Rishi Sunak would "strongly support" the Honours Forfeiture Committee if it decided to look at stripping Vennells of her award.

There have been calls for former Post Office boss Paula Vennells to be stripped of her CBE. (PA)
A petition calling for Paula Vennells to be stripped of her CBE reached 1.2 million signatures before she handed it back. (PA)

And post office minister Kevin Hollinrake told the House of Commons on Monday evening: “As a former CEO of this critical period, I think it would be clear, where the Post Office failed in so many different areas, in so many shocking ways, I think it would be sensible and reasonable for the CEO to hand back an honour that was given for services to the Post Office.”

Varchas Patel, whose father Vipin was wrongfully convicted of fraud in 2011 after being accused of stealing £75,000 from his Post Office branch in Oxford, said: “My initial reaction is good, I’m glad. She doesn’t deserve that CBE, she never did deserve that CBE."

Justice Secretary Alex Chalk leaving Downing Street, London, after a Cabinet meeting. Picture date: Tuesday December 19, 2023. (Photo by James Manning/PA Images via Getty Images)
Justice secretary Alex Chalk says a plan to clear hundreds of convicted sub-postmasters is expected to be announced this week. (PA Images via Getty Images)

Meanwhile, justice secretary Alex Chalk told the Commons on Tuesday that the government was giving “active consideration” to the idea of legislating to quash the convictions of sub-postmasters caught up in the Horizon scandal.

Former cabinet minister Nadhim Zahawi, who played himself in the ITV drama, urged Chalk to bring forward a “simple bill to quash all 800” convictions immediately.

Chalk told MPs it was an “appalling injustice” and that Zahawi’s suggestion was “receiving active consideration”.

The government said it hopes to announce a plan to exonerate and compensate victims of the scandal before the end of this week.

Watch: Government commits to clearing names of wrongfully convicted postmasters