February 22, 2024

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Paula Vennells: Ex-Postmaster Hands over CBE over IT scandal

Paula Vennells: Ex-Postmaster Hands over CBE over IT scandal
  • Written by Oliver Slough and Natasha Brisky
  • BBC News

Image source, Parliament TV

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Paula Fennells said she was “truly sorry for the devastation” caused to the postmasters and their families

Former Postmaster Paula Vennells is handing over her CBE with immediate effect after facing mounting pressure over the Horizon IT scandal.

More than 700 subpostmasters were prosecuted based on data from the flawed Horizon software between 1999 and 2015.

Some people went to prison for false accounting and theft, while many were financially bankrupt.

More than a million people have signed a petition calling for Ms Fennells to be stripped of her position at the central bank.

Government ministers have promised to set out a plan later this week to help hundreds of sub-postmasters clear their names.

One idea being explored is a new law that would exonerate hundreds of those wrongfully convicted.

In a statement, Ms Fennells, who was the Post Office's chief executive between 2012 and 2019, said she had “listened” to subpostmasters and others calling for her to return her CBE.

“I am truly sorry for the devastation caused to postmasters and their families, whose lives have been torn apart by being wrongly accused and wrongly prosecuted as a result of the Horizon system.”

Ms Fennells has long faced questions about her role in the scandal, which has been described as one of the UK's most publicized miscarriages of justice.

A public investigation into the scandal has been underway since February 2021, and will resume on Thursday after the Christmas holiday.

Fujitsu – the Japanese technology company that made the Horizon system – has been invited to answer questions from MPs next week.

The Business and Commerce Select Committee says Post Office Minister Kevin Hollinrake has confirmed he will attend the evidence hearing on January 16.

Ms Fennells was appointed to the post of CBE for Post Office Services and Charities in the 2019 New Year Honors – despite ongoing legal action against the Post Office, launched by 555 sub-postmasters in 2017.

During her tenure, the Post Office repeatedly denied problems with the Horizon system.

The honor was given for her work in “diversity and inclusion”, her “commitment to the social purpose at the heart of the business and her dedication to putting the customer first”, the Post Office said.

However, despite the offer made by Mrs. Fennels, the only person who can strip someone of their honor is King Charles.

People can indicate that they wish to abdicate their honor, as Ms Fennells has now done, but doing so has no formal effect. Until the Confiscation Commission receives the King's advice and acts on its advice, Mrs Fennells will continue to hold the CBE.

Communications Workers Union (CWU), which represented 110,000 employees at Royal Mail (of which the Post Office was part) She said Ms Fennells' decision was a “symbolic gesture”.

CWU national officer Andy Fourie also called on her to return the performance-related bonuses she received while working at the Post Office.

He said: “Given that she received these rewards while overseeing the largest miscarriage of justice in British history, it would be right that this money be returned.”

Many victims of the scandal are still fighting to have their convictions overturned or receive full compensation after being forced to pay thousands of pounds out of their own pocket for shortfalls caused by Horizon accounting software.

Jo Hamilton, the former postmaster who was wrongly convicted in 2008 of stealing thousands of pounds from a village shop in Hampshire, said she was delighted Ms Fennells had agreed to return the honour.

“It's unfortunate that it only took a million people to paralyze her conscience,” she said.

Downing Street said it was “clearly the right decision” for Ms Fennells to reinstate her CBE.

He said he personally wrote to Mrs Fennells after his wife's trial to request further investigation into her case, but received no assistance.

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Michael Rudkin says his family was shunned by their community

Rudkin, who lost his job and union position over the Horizon scandal, said his family also lost friends over the allegations.

A CBE (Commander of the British Empire) is awarded to a person who has gone 'above and beyond for the community or country'.

After a Gentleman or a Knighthood, it is the highest level of the Order of the British Empire, followed by an OBE (Officer of the Order of the British Empire), and then an MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire).

No 10 also said it would support “further recognition” of the work of Sub-Postmaster Alan Bates and others to expose the Horizon scandal.

Image source, ITV/Shutterstock

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Will Mellor as former Postmaster Lee Castleton and Amy Nuttall as Lisa Castleton in the Mr. Bates vs. the Post Office TV show

Until 2012, the Post Office was part of Royal Mail before being split into two. Between 2003 and 2010, Royal Mail's chief executive was Adam Crozier, who led ITV and is now chairman of BT.

He was replaced by Dame Moya Green who ran Royal Mail for eight years, during which time the company was privatized and listed on the London Stock Exchange in 2013.

The government is examining options to speed up justice for wrongfully convicted postmasters.

Former minister Nadhim Zahawi called for a “simple bill” to overturn all remaining convictions based on “bad data”.

However, others disagreed, including former Attorney-General Dominic Grieve who told the BBC that it would amount to “parliamentary interference in the judicial process”.

Instead, he said each case “should be considered on its merits” and sent to the Criminal Cases Review Commission, which investigates allegations of miscarriages of justice.

The scandal has been described as the most widespread miscarriage of justice in British history, but so far only 93 convictions have been overturned, and of these, only 30 people have agreed to “full and final” compensation settlements, meaning many victims are still fighting to clear their name. Their names.

Some 54 cases resulted in either the conviction being upheld, the person being denied permission to appeal, or the appellant withdrawing from the process.

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