Ex-Post Office boss Paula Vennells will hand back CBE after 1.2m sign petition

Former Post Office chief Paula Vennells has decided to relinquish her CBE immediately, in response to the widespread backlash following the Horizon IT debacle.

This decision follows a petition signed by over 1.2 million people, sparked by an ITV drama, calling for Ms. Vennells to be stripped of her honor. Despite the award being presented in 2019 for her contributions to the Post Office, this move comes amidst the scrutiny of the largest legal miscarriage in British history, which saw numerous Post Office workers’ lives devastated by the scandal.

Between 1999 and 2015, around 900 sub-postmasters were erroneously prosecuted due to glitches in Fujitsu’s Horizon accounting system, leading to false financial discrepancies in their branches. The consequences were severe, ranging from financial collapse to imprisonment. To date, only 93 have had their convictions overturned, and many are still awaiting compensation.

Ms. Vennells, who led the Post Office from 2012 to 2019, expressed her intention to focus on cooperating with the public inquiry and anticipates giving sworn testimony in the near future.

In her statement on Tuesday, she said, “Until now, I have refrained from public commentary out of respect for the ongoing inquiry and pending my testimony. However, I acknowledge the demands from the sub-postmasters and others for the return of my CBE. I have heeded these calls and am returning my CBE immediately.”

Expressing regret, she added, “I deeply apologize for the distress caused to the sub-postmasters and their families, unjustly accused and prosecuted due to the Horizon system. My focus now is to aid the inquiry, and I will refrain from further public statements until its conclusion.”

Jo Hamilton, a former subpostmistress victimized in the scandal, welcomed Ms. Vennells’ gesture but lamented the necessity of widespread public outcry to prompt this action. Ms. Hamilton, wrongly convicted in 2008, remarked on the broader implications of the scandal and the public’s growing frustration with systemic injustices.

The government has faced increasing calls for decisive action following the ITV drama’s depiction of the scandal, particularly from MPs and peers. The story highlighted how former sub-postmaster Alan Bates played a pivotal role in uncovering the scandal. Despite the public outcry, Downing Street has refrained from commenting on the potential re-nomination of Mr. Bates for an OBE following Ms. Vennells’ decision.

Justice Secretary Alex Chalk acknowledged the severity of the injustice and indicated active consideration of a proposal to annul all implicated convictions. Fujitsu’s potential accountability, legally or financially, hinges on the inquiry’s findings, with the Prime Minister’s spokesperson asserting that those responsible will face consequences.

The government’s stance on Fujitsu’s future involvement in government contracts remains contingent on the inquiry’s outcomes, underscoring the necessity of a thorough and impartial investigation process.

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