• Thursday, June 20, 2024

News

Former Post Office IT head claims Paula Vennells ‘wanted to avoid inquiry’

Lesley Sewell revealed in a witness statement that Vennells contacted her four times in 2020 and 2021

Paula Vennells

By: Pramod Thomas

FORMER head of IT at the Post Office informed the Horizon scandal inquiry that she blocked Paula Vennells’ number when the former CEO asked for assistance to avoid inquiry.

Lesley Sewell’s testimony, delivered in a written statement, outlined how Vennells contacted her on four occasions between 2020 and 2021, using various communication channels including emails, phone calls, and text messages.

The nature of these communications centered around Vennells’ efforts to sidestep scrutiny regarding the Horizon scandal, which saw hundreds of sub-postmasters prosecuted based on evidence from the flawed Horizon IT system.

Sewell told the public inquiry on Thursday (16) that her discomfort grew following the fourth attempt by Vennells to reach out.

She explained that she felt uneasy about the ongoing contact, prompting her to take the drastic measure of blocking her former boss’s phone number.

“Paula contacted me on four occasions in total. I recall blocking her number after the last call as I did not feel comfortable with her contacting me,” Sewell, who worked at the Post Office from 2010 to 2015, was quoted as saying.

“I had not spoken to Paula since I had left POL [Post Office Limited] in 2015.”

She detailed how Vennells contacted her from a personal email account in March 2020, seeking assistance ahead of an appearance before a BEIS Select committee. Vennells hoped to plug memory gaps regarding Horizon/Sparrow matters, aiming to potentially avoid an independent inquiry.

Project Sparrow, a sub-committee addressing Horizon issues, played a significant role in the discussions between Vennells and Sewell. The committee’s actions, including the dismissal of forensic accountants who identified flaws in the system, underscored the severity of the situation.

Furthermore, Sewell’s testimony shed light on the existence of a 2014 Deloitte report, code-named “Project Zebra,” which revealed the possibility of remote access to sub-postmasters’ accounts. This report, not disclosed during previous litigation, added another layer of complexity to the Horizon scandal.

In April 2021, Vennells once again reached out to Sewell, this time via text message, initiating another round of communication. Their conversation touched upon the Deloitte report and referenced an upcoming Court of Appeal case.

“I recall blocking her number after the last call as I did not feel comfortable with her contacting me,” she told the inquiry.

During her appearance at the inquiry, Sewell, visibly emotional at times, recounted the events to Sir Wyn Williams, the chair of the inquiry. Williams offered support and reassurance to her, acknowledging the challenging nature of her testimony.

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