Sub-postmasters demanded an apology from former Post Office boss Paula Vennells over a £32m legal case against staff who were branded crooks
Sub-postmasters last night demanded an apology from former Post Office boss Paula Vennells over a £32million legal case against staff who were branded crooks.
They said the executive – who earned £3.7million during her six-year tenure – should also pay back her bonuses over the debacle.
Miss Vennells presided over the decision to go to court to challenge 550 postmasters who said they had been falsely accused of stealing from the till.
Some postmasters were jailed, made bankrupt or hounded out of their jobs as fraudsters because glitches in a new computer system had caused shortfalls in their accounts.
On Wednesday the new chief executive Nick Read capitulated after the lengthy court fight and apologised for the torment caused. He also announced the Post Office would pay out close to £58million to settle the case.
But postmasters yesterday directed their ire at Miss Vennells, who left this year. In her final year in the job, she was handed £720,000 – nearly five times the Prime Minister’s £150,000 salary – including two bonuses totalling £390,000 on top of her £255,000 wages.
Miss Vennells presided over the decision to go to court to challenge 550 postmasters who said they had been falsely accused of stealing from the till. It emerged that in her final year in the job, she was handed £720,000 – nearly five times the Prime Minister’s £150,000 salary
In January the ordained priest was awarded a CBE for services to the Post Office and to charity, and a month later she was appointed as a non-executive board member to the Cabinet Office. She is now also chairman of Imperial Health NHS Trust.
Last night Michael Hill, 79, who ran a branch in Sheffield from 1994 to 2001 and was left £200,000 out of pocket, demanded she apologise for her role in the Horizon IT system debacle. He said: ‘Paula Vennells should stand up and in public and say, “I’m so sorry. It has been proved that terrible life-changing mistakes were made and I was at the helm when we decided to fight these people, and I apologise”. She won’t of course.’
Mother-of-two Seema Misra, 44, who was sentenced to 15 months in jail while she was eight weeks pregnant, said: ‘Paula Vennells should definitely apologise and give back some of her bonuses.
‘We have been though so much pain, pain she can not imagine.
Mother-of-two Seema Misra, 44, who was sentenced to 15 months in jail while she was eight weeks pregnant, said: ‘Paula Vennells should definitely apologise and give back some of her bonuses’
‘I can’t find the words – how can they compensate what we’ve been through?
‘Everyone at the Post Office who was involved in this case should apologise individually.’ Three years before the case went to court, the Post Office ignored a report by independent forensic accountants, who said there was ‘only limited evidence’ for charges of theft.
Miss Vennells told MPs investigating the Horizon IT system in 2015: ‘[The buck] does stop with me… As chief executive, I am responsible for the reputation of and what happens for the Post Office.’
Yesterday it also emerged that ‘hundreds’ more former postmasters, who missed the deadline for the group action, are considering making a claim. It could mean the Post Office, which has only returned to profit in recent years, could pay out millions more in compensation. The £83million paid out in compensation and legal fees is already double the amount of profit the Government-owned company made last year.
Miss Vennells told MPs investigating the Horizon IT system in 2015: ‘[The buck] does stop with me… As chief executive, I am responsible for the reputation of and what happens for the Post Office’
Mark Baker, branch secretary for the Communication Workers’ Union, said: ‘There are hundreds more that I’ve spoken to and personally referred to go on a secondary list of claimants.
‘Their ability to claim is as good as those in the current litigation. The union will assist people who want to bring individual cases against the Post Office. I’d like to see a full apology from Paula Vennells. They presided over this and now we have to ask what they think they were doing.’
Freeth’s, the law firm that represented the 550 postmasters, has compiled the secondary list of claimants. An insider at the firm said there were no current plans to bring a claim but added: ‘Never say never.’ The cases of 34 postmasters convicted of charges of theft and false accounting are also being examined by the Criminal Cases Review Commission.
The Post Office still denies its Horizon IT system could be faulty. The settlement is a victory for the Daily Mail, which has repeatedly highlighted the scandal and campaigned to save village post offices.
The Post Office has blown an estimated £32million of taxpayers’ cash fighting the series of linked High Court trials, which started in November last year.
Some postmasters say the settlement – which will leave each postmaster with an average of around £50,000 each – does not adequately compensate them.
Post Office chairman Tim Parker, who has been in the role since 2015, said: ‘Personally and on behalf of the Post Office I would like to re-iterate that I sincerely apologise to those affected.’ Miss Vennells was contacted for comment.
Computer bug said I’d ‘lost’ £27,000
Pamela Stubbs was stripped of her post office after a glitch in the Horizon IT system claimed she had ‘lost’ £27,000. She was kicked out when she refused to pay
Pamela Stubbs was suspended and stripped of her post office after glitches in the new Horizon IT system claimed she had ‘lost’ £27,000.
The 71-year-old was never told bosses privately suspected losses at Barkham Post Office in Berkshire were ‘related’ to problems with the computer software.
When Mrs Stubbs refused to pay the money, she was kicked out of the business she had run for 23 years – including ten by herself after her husband died. The pensioner, from Wokingham, was sent a bill every month for her ‘debt’, and the Post Office even said it would take a cut of her earnings from any future jobs.
A criminal investigator came round to interview her, but despite being unable to prove she had taken the money, the business was never returned to her.
Yesterday Mrs Stubbs said she was ‘thrilled’ with the £58million settlement, but wants former boss Paula Vennells to answer for her actions. She said: ‘She has squandered taxpayers’ money and it was covered up for years. I think it’s outrageous.
‘I would like to see Paula Vennells apologise. She has crept out of the back door and has held herself aloof from everything. It doesn’t work too well with her church background.
‘Government ministers too have stood back. They have allowed the Post Office to throw away tens of millions of pounds.’
She added: ‘How can they do that without any comment?’