• Friday, June 21, 2024

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Who is Paula Vennells?

Paula Vennells joined the organisation in 2007 as group network director

Paula Vennells

By: Pramod Thomas

FORMER Post Office chief executive Paula Vennells, who headed the Post Office from 2012 to 2019, apologised for the wrongful convictions of postmasters on Wednesday (22) during a public inquiry into the Horizon scandal.

Hundreds of postmasters, who ran community post offices, were convicted after a faulty IT system from Japanese company Fujitsu led to shortfalls in their accounts, and the state-run Post Office pursued them despite suggestions that it knew of the problems.

The 65-year-old ordained priest led the group during a period in which it continued to pursue sub-postmasters despite evidence, according to previous inquiry witnesses, that the software could be remotely accessed.

Vennells held the position of chief executive during the latter years of the Horizon scandal. Between 1999 and 2015, over 900 sub-postmasters faced wrongful prosecution due to flawed software falsely indicating discrepancies in branch accounts.

Despite maintaining a relatively private life, Vennells has become closely associated with the scandal.

Hailing from the north west of England, Vennells attended the University of Bradford, where she studied French, Russian, and Economics, and where she met her future husband, John.

Graduating in 1981, she commenced her business career at Unilever. Subsequently, she held management roles in companies such as Argos, Dixons, L’Oréal, Morrisons, Dunelm, and Whitbread.

Following her departure from the Post Office in 2019, Vennells served as a non-executive board member at the Cabinet Office for a year. Additionally, she assumed the position of chairman at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust but resigned in December 2020, citing personal reasons. However, it is her tenure at the Post Office that has come under intense scrutiny.

She joined the organisation in 2007 as group network director, she ascended to the role of chief executive in 2012, coinciding with the Post Office’s separation from Royal Mail.

She was depicted by actress Lia Williams in the ITV drama Mr Bates Vs The Post Office, which aired earlier this year. Following the broadcast, she made a solitary public appearance, declining to address inquiries from a Channel 4 reporter regarding potential cover-ups at the Post Office, as she cycled away from a church cemetery.

The ITV production also underscored Vennells’ dual role as an ordained priest, a path she pursued before her tenure at the Post Office. She embarked on training as a Church of England deacon from 2002 to 2005, ultimately becoming ordained in 2006.

Vennells served in various churches in Bedfordshire and was a candidate for the Bishop of London position in 2017. Although she relinquished her clerical duties in 2021, she retains her ordination.

In January this year, Vennells announced that she will return the CBE received from Queen Elizabeth II. A petition calling for her to be stripped of the CBE, handed out “for services to the Post Office and to charity”, had garnered more than a million signatures.

Vennells, who received more than £4.5 million in salary and bonuses during her seven-year tenure, stepped down in 2019 before the Post Office agreed to pay £58m in a settlement with 555 sub-postmasters.

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