Former Post Office CEO hands back CBE amid public backlash

Former Post Office CEO hands back her CBE after public backlash following dramatisation of her role in Post Office Horizon scandal

Disgraced former Post Office CEO Paula Vennells has handed back her CBE following a huge public backlash after dramatisation of a scandal which occurred under her watch.

Vennells held the top job at the Post Office between 2012 and 2012, after holding other senior roles for a few years, and left the Post Office in 2019. This was just before a damaging High Court judgment that slammed the management of the organisation that punished subpostmasters for mistakes made by its own computer system. She took more than £400,000 in pay and bonuses with her.

The Post Office Horizon scandal saw subpostmasters blamed and made to cover unexplained losses in their accounts which were caused by the computer system from Fujitsu, known as Horizon, which the Post Office rolled out in 1999/2000. Subpostmasters lost thousands of pounds, with many sacked and made bankrupt. More than 700 were prosecuted based on evidence from Horizon. Hundreds were sent to prison after being prosecuted by the Post Office and convicted of crimes as as theft and false accounting.

In 2009, Computer Weekly told the stories of seven subpostmasters affected by the losses, which led to many more who had suffered losses coming forward (see timeline of Computer Weekly articles below).

The Post Office always denied there were problems with the Horizon system, although executives knew problems existed. In fact, during a hearing at the current public inquiry into the Horizon scandal, one former Post Office worker said executives – including Vennells – told staff that Horizon was robust.

An online petition set up to call for Vennells to hand back her CBE received well over one million signatures following the airing of a four-part dramatisation of the scandal and an accompanying documentary.

In a statement, Vennells said: “I continue to support and focus on co-operating with the inquiry and expect to be giving evidence in the coming months.

“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,” she added. “I am, however, aware of the calls from subpostmasters 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 devastation caused to the subpostmasters and their families, whose lives were torn apart by being wrongly accused and wrongly prosecuted  as a result of the Horizon system.

“I now intend to continue to focus on assisting the inquiry and will not make any further public comment until it has concluded.”

Also read: What you need to know about the Horizon scandal

Watch: ITV’s Post Office scandal documentary, Mr Bates vs The Post Office: The real story

Timeline: Computer Weekly articles about the scandal since 2009

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