A petition calling for former Post Office CEO Paula Vennells to be stripped of her CBE has passed one million signatures following the broadcast last week of ITV1’s four-part drama into the sub-post managers scandal.
Mr Bates vs The Post Office looks back at the scandal that resulted in more than 700 branch operators being prosecuted between 2000 and 2014 based on incorrect information on the service’s computer system. Sub-post managers and sub-postmistresses were wrongly accused of theft, fraud and false accounting; some were subsequently convicted and jailed.
Vennells, who served as Post Office CEO from 2012 to 2019, oversaw the organisation while it routinely denied problems with its Horizon IT system. She was awarded a CBE “for services to the Post Office and charity” on the 2019 New Year honours list. In 2021, she said she was “truly sorry for the suffering caused” after the Court of Appeal overturned the convictions of 39 employees who fell victim to faults in the service’s Horizon software, made by Fujitsu.
According to reports, with pressure growing to speed up the process of forgiving victims, Justice Secretary Alex Chalk is set to meet with Post Office Minister Kevin Hollinrake on Monday to discuss how to help the convicted branch managers.
It comes after Rishi Sunak told the BBC’s Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg programme that Chalk was also looking at ways to remove the Post Office’s ability to prosecute, adding: “It’s right that we find every way to try and make this right for the people who were wrongfully treated at the time.”
The Met Police announced on Friday that officers were “investigating potential fraud offences arising out of these prosecutions”, for example, “monies recovered from sub-postmasters as a result of prosecutions or civil actions”.
Petition passes a million signatures.
The Post Office settled with 555 workers in 2019, but some died before they could see justice done. Around 90 convictions have been overturned, with compensation payments made, while an independent public statutory inquiry is set to continue this year.
An online petition calling for Vennells to be stripped of her title was started three years ago and received little attention then. However, after ITV’s show was broadcast, signatures have skyrocketed, standing at 1,010,470 on Monday morning.
“Having been handed a CBE for services to the Post Office and moved out into other senior positions in government and healthcare, it is only right that this award is now withdrawn through the process of forfeiture,” the petition on the 38 Degree website, reads.
One scandal victim said the compensation scheme for Post Office Horizon victims should be removed from the organisations currently running it. Former sub-postmaster Lee Castleton noted, “A completely isolated, separate review and compensation scheme makes more sense”.
He told the BBC’s Sunday With Laura Kuenssberg programme: “I would love it to be taken out of the hands of the people that caused it in a way. This is not just a computer issue; this is a people issue.
“People took people to court. People made decisions based on data that they probably knew was faulty. Many differences and problems exist, but having a completely isolated review and compensation scheme makes more sense.”
In December 2019, in a damning judgment on the Horizon issues, the High Court ruled that the original Horizon system had not been sufficiently robust and had suffered from several bugs and errors. In his judgment, Mr Justice Fraser stated that the Post Office’s approach “demonstrates a simple institutional obstinacy or refusal to consider any possible alternatives to their view of Horizon, which was maintained regardless of the weight of factual evidence to the contrary”.