A former sub-postmistress wrongfully convicted in the Post Office scandal said, “The people have spoken” after their ex-boss handed back her CBE.
Paula Vennells, the chief executive of the Post Office during the scandal, announced on Tuesday she would give up her honour following days of public and political pressure.
A petition calling for her to be stripped of her Commander of the British Empire gong had reached over 1.2 million signatures by lunchtime on Tuesday in the wake of an ITV drama about the scandal broadcast last week.
More than 700 branch managers were convicted of theft, fraud and false accounting between 1999 and 2015 based on faulty readings from Horizon software developed by Fujitsu. One of those wrongly convicted was former sub-postmistress Jo Hamilton, 66, falsely accused of stealing £36,000 from her branch in South Warnborough, Hampshire.
Reacting to Vennells’s announcement, Hamilton said: “It shows the people have spoken – about everything. I’m glad she’s given it back. It’s a shame it took just a million people to cripple her conscience.
“It’s not just about her CBE; it’s about how disgusting the whole thing is.”
Hamilton, played by actor Monica Dolan in ITV’s four-part drama, Mr Bates vs the Post Office, paid off incorrect shortfalls on her account with her money and remortgaged her house twice.
She was charged with theft but accepted a lesser charge of false accounting in February 2008 before her conviction was quashed in 2021.
She said: “We’re all sick and tired of people taking money, being paid excessively, and politicians taking no notice of you whatsoever. I think the people are just sick of it.”
Vennells, who was given the CBE in the 2019 New Year Honours “for services to the Post Office and to charity”, was the head of the company between 2012 and 2019.
In a statement issued on Tuesday, Vennells said: “I have so far maintained my silence as I considered it inappropriate to comment publicly while the inquiry remains ongoing and before I have provided my oral evidence.
“I am, however, aware of the calls from sub-postmasters and others to return my CBE. I have listened and confirmed that I will return my CBE immediately. I am truly sorry for the devastation caused to the sub-postmasters and their families, whose lives were torn apart by being wrongly accused and wrongly prosecuted as a result of the Horizon system.”
On Monday, Downing Street said Prime Minister Rishi Sunak would “strongly support” the Honours Forfeiture Committee if it decided to look at stripping Vennells of her award.