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Post Office chief said temptation to borrow from tills was issue for subpostmasters

10 Apr 2024 4 minute read
Former Post Office boss Paula Vennells. Photo Jeremy Durkin/PA Wire

Former Post Office chief executive Paula Vennells suggested “temptation” for subpostmasters to borrow money from tills was a problem and not the Horizon system, an inquiry has heard.

The probe into the Horizon scandal was told Ms Vennells made a “false statement” in a letter to former Conservative MP Oliver Letwin by saying that courts found in favour of the Post Office “in every instance” when prosecuting subpostmasters for theft or false accounting.

The inquiry was shown minutes of a meeting between Ms Vennells, former chair Alice Perkins and MPs such as Lord Arbuthnot in which she claimed a small number of subpostmasters had been “borrowing” money from the tills.

The minutes of the meeting read: “It appears that some subpostmasters have been borrowing money from the Post Office account/till in the same way they might do in a retail business, but this is not how the Post Office works.

“Post Office cash is public money and the Post Office must recover it if any goes missing.”

Speaking from the witness box at the inquiry on Wednesday, Lord Arbuthnot said of the meeting: “At the meeting of May 17 with Oliver Letwin and me, Alice Perkins and Paula Vennells both raised the problem of there being lots and lots of cash lying around in unexpected places.

“Whether this meant that they thought that that led subpostmasters into temptation and being inherently dishonest wasn’t entirely clear, but that was the issue they were raising I think.

“We never really got to the bottom of that, but that’s what she was talking about.”

‘Hands in the till’

Counsel to the inquiry Jason Beer KC then asked: “Did you or would you take from what is recorded as being said there that the issue, according to Ms Vennells, was with postmasters putting their hands in the till, rather than with Horizon?”

The former Tory MP replied: “Well it’s clearly possible that that might have happened in some cases, but if you don’t have a robust, to use the word, Horizon accounting system, you can’t be sure whether it has happened.

“So, I thought it might have happened in some cases, but to say that it happened in a lot of cases struck me as needing to be examined and tested.”

Mr Beer continued: “Would you agree overall that this is a fair summary: the problem is that a small number of postmasters borrow money from the till, the problem is not Horizon, every prosecution involving Horizon has found in favour of the Post Office, and not a single case existed whereon investigation the Horizon system was found to be at fault?”

Lord Arbuthnot replied: “Yes.”

Tested

In Ms Vennells’ 2012 letter to Mr Letwin, she denied issues with the Horizon system, claiming in that it had been “rigorously tested”.

She wrote: “The Post Office takes very seriously any perception that there is an issue with the accuracy of the Horizon system: there isn’t.

“The Horizon system has been rigorously tested using independent assessors and robust procedures.”

Lord Arbuthnot said he was not satisfied with the “brush-off” response he received from Ms Vennells after he raised concerns over subpostmaster complaints about the Horizon system.

During her time as managing director, Ms Vennells defended the Horizon system when it was queried by the former North East Hampshire MP, describing it as “robust”.

Ms Vennells, who was chief executive of the Post Office between 2012 and 2019, was formally stripped of her CBE following the Horizon scandal.

Lord Arbuthnot first learned of issues with the Horizon system from subpostmasters in his constituency, including Jo Hamilton, who was falsely accused of stealing £36,000 from the Post Office branch she ran in South Warnborough, Hampshire.

Mr Bates vs The Post Office

The Post Office has come under fire since the broadcast of ITV drama Mr Bates vs The Post Office, which put the Horizon IT scandal under the spotlight.

More than 700 subpostmasters were prosecuted by the Government-owned organisation and handed criminal convictions between 1999 and 2015 as Fujitsu’s faulty Horizon system made it appear as though money was missing at their branches.

Hundreds of subpostmasters are awaiting compensation despite the Government announcing that those who have had convictions quashed are eligible for £600,000 payouts.


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Dai Ponty
Dai Ponty
1 month ago

This women goes to Church and is a supposidly a Christian she is a lying hypocrite she is unlike any Christian i know she and others high up and the politicians that knew from any party should be done for corporate manslaughter and sent to prison as people took their own lives because of the false accusations

hdavies15
hdavies15
1 month ago
Reply to  Dai Ponty

She may be a member and office holder within the C of E but she is far removed from what many regard as Christian principles. More likely she is using the Church as a cover for her own deviant nature, not an uncommon trait among “believers” of many faiths. She needs a good “doing” with a stretch of porridge at the end of it but she is not alone in that respect. The way Ed Davey started ducking and diving suggests a sense of guilt but he too is far too sanctimonious to concede that guilt in so many words.

Ernie The Smallholder
Ernie The Smallholder
1 month ago
Reply to  hdavies15

Also nothing is said about the general state of the computing/IT industry in last 40 years.

Fujitsu as a software developer should not have access to real-time live data.
Live data is personal and private and should be covered under the Data Protection Act.

Fujitsu should not have been running system tests on real time live data.

Systems should be tested on dummy data designed to test the system and should NOT relate in any way to live personal information.

Last edited 1 month ago by Ernie The Smallholder
hdavies15
hdavies15
1 month ago

In-service monitoring and testing would be quite appropriate and necessary as all new systems have to confront the “unforeseen” after commissioning. Fujitsu’s flaw appears to be their unwillingness to accept any failures to perform, a stupid claim of infallibility which should have set alarms off very early on when those alleged shortfalls started cropping up. No honesty within the Fujitsu team and no balls among those P.O execs dealing with their on going relationship and the daily operations of the new system.

Evan Aled Bayton
Evan Aled Bayton
1 month ago

It would appear that the Rev Vennells has a woeful lack of scriptural knowledge at least as far as the Ten Commandments are concerned.

Richard Davies
Richard Davies
1 month ago

She should face a court case with charges of perjury, contempt of parliament and libel!

In nearly all the cases that have come to light, thanks to the itv drama Mr Bates Vs the post office, the sub-postmasters/mistresses were putting their own money in the till not taking any out.

If the CofE had any decency it would rescind her priesthood!

A Evans
A Evans
1 month ago

And your proof that ALL those people had their hands in the till? And it never crossed your mind that statistically there were too many? Pathetic excuse!

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