Wrongful Prosecutions of UK Sub Postmasters

Reported by the BBC

The name Paula Vennells probably doesn’t mean much to you, says Marina Hyde in The Guardian. Which is strange, given she presided over “the most widespread miscarriage of justice in British history”. During her seven-year tenure as CEO of the Post Office, 736 sub postmasters were wrongly prosecuted for theft, fraud and false accounting because of a faulty new computer system forced upon them by Vennells and her team.

Some key facts and No Accountability.

The individual stories are horrific. At least four people committed suicide; dozens were imprisoned, including a teenager. One operator spent her son’s 10th birthday locked up, while pregnant, in a “horrendous” cell, and gave birth to her second child wearing an electronic tag.

Despite these mindboggling and frequently tragic stories, not a single person has been held accountable – including the top brass, who allegedly knew the system was flawed. Vennells herself was awarded a CBE in 2019. And the scandal has received almost no coverage. Compare that with recent furores over comments made by Jeremy Clarkson and Gary Lineker. The subject just isn’t “sexy enough” for a “chatterati” who prefer cancelling their opponents on Twitter to the boring, grinding work of holding “iniquitous and dysfunctional systems” to account.

And of course, obsessing on social media about celebrities saying something controversial is exactly the sort of “looking-the-wrong-way” that allowed this scandal to happen. As long as we remain hyper-focused on individual misdemeanours, the likes of Vennells “will keep on getting away with it”.

Paula Vennell. The Boss at the Post Office.

Paula Vennells was CEO of the Post Office from 2012 to 2019. Throughout this period, she refused every single interview request on the issue. The scandal has, so far, cost the Post Office more than £100m.

Directors Ron Warmington and Ian Henderson said on the TV documentary, Panorama, that they were, at the outset, given the Post Office’s blessing to find “the truth at all costs”, that the organisation would provide aa the information. If the Post Office holds the information, they will provide it. No ifs, no buts.

Then, in the autumn of 2013, the shutters came down. The decision was made, collectively by the Board sub-committee, that the investigators would NOT be given access to the internal files as they were legally privileged. So, documents which could have been examined, and which might have revealed potential miscarriages of justice, were withheld.

Sub Postmasters lose livelihoods through wrong prosecutions.

As Paula Vennells wrote, “although it seemed there were good reasons in principle for the Post Office to continue the practice of bringing private prosecutions, the Board adopted a new prosecutions policy in February 2014”.

What on earth were the “good reasons” for continuing to bring private prosecutions – to get the number up to 1000? Because it worked? Because it was fun? There might have been good reasons in principle to do it, to punish and deter criminal activity. But, in practice, all the evidence suggests that she and her team were out of control and incompetent, prosecuting innocent people.

What did she think was happening if it wasn’t a systemic issue? A run of bad apples? Demographics? That it was perfectly normal to go about criminalising staff.

Sub Postmasters were having enough. They receive a small salary from the Post Office in order to provide postal services which complement their main business.

But they are private entrepreneurs, working hard for modest rewards to serve the needs of their local communities. They are not criminals to be prosecuted by a despotic organisation that does not understand their business ethic.

Vennell’s Background

Vennells was born in 1959 and grew up in Lancashire. Having won a funded place, she was educated at the Manchester High School for Girls, an all-girls private school. She then studied Russian and French at the University of Bradford.

She has worked at Unilever, L’Oréal, Dixons Retail, Argos, and Whitbread.

She joined the Post Office in 2007, and became its CEO in April 2012. She resigned in February 2019. In April 2019, she became Chair of the Trust that runs hospitals such as St. Mary’s, Hammersmith, Queen Charlotte’s, Charing Cross, and theWestern Eye hospital.

From 2002 to 2005, Vennells trained for Holy Orders, and was ordained as a priest in 2006. She was reported to have ‘stepped back’ from duties in 2021. Her membership of the Church of England Ethical Investment Advisory Group was also terminated.

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