Former Post Office chief executive could be stripped of her CBE under official plans

Former Post Office chief executive could be stripped of her CBE under official plans

24 Jul    Finance News
Paula Vennells - PA Wire/Post Office

Paula Vennells – PA Wire/Post Office

Paula Vennells, the former chief executive of the Post Office, could be stripped of her CBE under Government plans to launch a review into honours awarded to people embroiled in the Horizon subpostmasters scandal.

The Telegraph has been told that ministers are looking at launching a review into the scandal, which is expected to involve a list of names of figures involved being compiled, along with an assessment of the level of their involvement.

Sources said Mr Johnson and Robert Buckland, the Justice Secretary, were “very exercised” about the scandal, which is considered the most widespread miscarriage of justice in British history.

Those understood to feature prominently include Ms Vennells, as well as Alice Perkins, the former chairman of the Post Office, who is married to Jack Straw, the former foreign secretary. She was made a Companion of the Order of the Bath in 2002.

Ms Vennells has previously said she is “truly sorry”, while Ms Perkins apologised for the “deep distress” the scandal has caused in April this year

Should the review find compelling evidence against those involved, it is expected that a list of names will then be submitted to Parliament’s forfeiture committee, which has the power to revoke honours with the approval of the Queen.

Subpostmasters across the UK were wrongly convicted of theft, fraud and false accounting. The cases against them were based around the Horizon software system, which was later found to be faulty.

A Government source said: “This was an egregious miscarriage of justice and the senior management of the Post Office at the time must be held to account.

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“These honours are often dished out to people in the public sector simply for doing their jobs, even when they are completely hopeless out of them.

“But some of those in the senior echelons of the Post Office were worse than hopeless, they were cruel. It would undermine what little confidence is left in the honours system not to look at stripping gongs from those involved.”

Honours are granted by The Queen, acting on advice from her ministers, each New Year and on her official birthday in mid-June.

On Monday, 12 former subpostmasters had their convictions overturned by the court of appeal, bringing the total exonerated to 57. More appeals will come before court in the next few weeks.

In total, more than 700 prosecutions took place using evidence from the Horizon software system. Campaigners fear up to 900 Post Office employees could have been implicated.

Several fully exonerated subpostmasters outside the High Court in April 2021, below:

Some of those convicted were imprisoned, whilst others went bankrupt and lost their homes. The convictions took place after the Horizon system falsely indicated widespread cash shortfalls within the Post Office.

On Thursday, Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng confirmed the Government will provide compensation of up to £100,000, for those who have their convictions overturned.

Post Office staff implicated could also seek additional compensation later, using the civil courts or mediated settlements.

Paul Scully, the Postal Affairs Minister, vowed the Government will “support” the Post Office as it seeks to address “past mistakes”.

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He said: “The suffering and distress these postmasters and their families have gone through cannot be overstated.

“While nothing will make up for the years of pain they faced after this appalling injustice, I hope this initial step provides a measure of comfort.

“The Post Office has started to turn a corner in terms of dealing with its past mistakes – and this government will support them in doing so wherever possible.”

Labour’s shadow business minister, Chi Onwurah, warned some of those affected may not be covered by the compensation.

She commented: “This news is bittersweet: for those subpostmasters who lost their jobs, homes, and reputations, for those who have still not had their convictions overturned and so will not be in scope, and for those who lost their lives, for whom this news comes too late.”

In May, the Government announced the independent inquiry into the Horizon scandal would be put on a statutory footing. This means witnesses will be legally compelled to attend and provide evidence, and could face imprisonment or fines if they refuse.

The Communication Workers Union has called for criminal investigations into top ex-Post Office executives implicated in the scandal.

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