Vennells concedes ‘no one to blame’ but herself for Horizon scandal

Ex-Post Office boss Paula Vennells has admitted she has “no one to blame” but herself for what happened during the Horizon scandal.

The 65-year-old, ordained priest was giving evidence for a third day at the Horizon IT inquiry on Friday, and she told the hearing there are “no words” that will make the “sorrow and what people have gone through any better”.

Under questioning from Edward Henry KC, a lawyer representing a number of subpostmasters, she said she “didn’t always take the right path”.

She told the hearing she lost all employment since the Court of Appeal passed a judgment which ultimately led to a number of subpostmaster convictions being overturned.

Beginning his questioning, Mr Henry said; “There were so many forks in the road but you always took the wrong path, didn’t you?”

Ms Vennells said: “It was an extraordinarily complex undertaking and the Post Office and I didn’t always take the right path, I’m very clear about that.”

Mr Henry went on: “You exercised power with no thought of the consequences of your actions despite those consequences staring you in the face?”

The former chief executive replied: “The scheme was set up and for the time that I worked on that I believed … that we were doing the right things and clearly that was not always the case. We did look at the consequences.”

Post Office Horizon IT scandal
Former Post Office boss Paula Vennells said she did work entirely in isolation (PA Media)

She added: “I understand your point that there are no words that I can find today that will make the sorrow and what people have gone through any better.”

Questioned on whether she had anyone to blame but herself during the scandal, Ms Vennells said: “Absolutely. Where I made mistakes and where I made the wrong calls … where I had information and I made the wrong calls, yes, of course.”

Mr Henry continued: “Well, you are responsible for your own downfall, aren’t you?”

She replied: “From when the Court of Appeal passed its judgment, I lost all the employment that I 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 three years and prioritised this above anything else – for the past year it has probably been a full-time job.

“I have avoided talking to the press, perhaps to my own detriment, because all the way through, I have put this first and I was not working alone on this.

“I cannot think that any of the major decisions I took by myself in isolation of anybody.”

She added: “I did my best through this. And it wasn’t good enough, and that is a regret I carry with me.”

Mr Henry continued: “I suggest to you that you still continue to live in a cloud of denial and it persists even to today because you have given in 750-odd pages (of a witness statement) a craven, self-serving account, haven’t you? ‘I didn’t know, nobody told me, I can’t remember, I was not shown this, I relied on the lawyers’.”

Ms Vennells replied: “I have tried to do this to the very best of my ability. I have taken … all of the questions I was asked. I have answered them honestly, no matter how difficult or how embarrassing or how wrong I was at the time. I don’t believe I could have worked harder for this.”

Mr Henry went on: “What I’m going to suggest to you is that whatever you did was deliberate, considered and calculated. No one deceived you, no one misled you. You set the agenda and the tone for the business.”

Ms Vennells responded: “I was the chief executive, I did not set the agenda for the work of the scheme and the way the legal and the IT parts of it worked.

“I had to rely on those colleagues who were experts and I had no reason not to take the advice that I was given. I accept I was chief executive and, as I have said, as a chief executive you have ultimate accountability and that is simply fact.

“You are not responsible for everything that happens underneath you. You have to rely on the advice of internal and external experts and that is what I did and I was not working alone on this.”

She added: “I did my very best through this, and it wasn’t good enough, and that is a regret I carry with me.”

More than 700 subpostmasters were prosecuted by the Post Office and handed criminal convictions between 1999 and 2015 as Fujitsu’s faulty Horizon IT system made it appear as though money was missing at their branches.

Hundreds of subpostmasters are still awaiting compensation despite the Government announcing that those who have had convictions quashed are eligible for £600,000 payouts.