Paula Vennells could be stripped of her CBE as the Honours Forfeiture Committee commits to reconsider its award in the light of the Post Office Horizon scandal.
The former Post Office CEO, who held the top job between 2012 and 2019, was awarded a CBE for services to the Post Office in 2019.
According to reports, Tom Scholar, chairman of the Honours Forfeiture Committee, said his team would reconsider Vennells’ award when the current public inquiry into the Post Office scandal is complete.
Vennells led the Post Office during a scandal that saw hundreds of subpostmasters wrongly prosecuted for financial crimes after experiencing unexplained accounting shortfalls in branches. It has been described as the biggest miscarriage of justice in modern English legal history.
Vennells left just before a damaging High Court judgment, which slammed the Post Office management that punished subpostmasters for mistakes made by its own computer system. She took over £400,000 in pay and bonuses with her.
Computer Weekly first reported on the problems with the Fujitsu-supplied Horizon system in 2009 when it made public the stories of a group of subpostmasters whose lives were ruined when they were blamed for accounting shortfalls caused by computer errors (see timeline below).
In a letter to Kevan Jones, Labour MP for North Durham, Scholar said: “As you know, there is currently an official government inquiry into the Post Office Horizon IT issue and the inquiry is planning to submit its findings in autumn 2022.
“In your letter of 9 July 2020 to the previous chair of the Forfeiture Committee, you asked the committee to reconsider the honour awarded to Ms Vennells once there had been an investigation into the issue.
“The committee will have more information on which to make an assessment once the Post Office Horizon IT inquiry has completed its work.”
In 2020, Jones said that giving a CBE to Vennells for services to the Post Office when she must have known what was happening was “rubbing salt into the wounds” of the innocent victims of the scandal.
Jones began supporting the fight for justice when he took up the case of constituent Tom Brown, a subpostmaster who was wrongfully blamed and punished for unexplained losses.
Scandal victim Jo Hamilton, who had her wrongful conviction for fraud overturned in the Court of Appeal in April 2021, said: “As well as being stripped of her CBE, any bonuses paid to her by the Post Office should be paid back.”
Hamilton agreed with Jones that when Vennells was awarded the CBE it was like rubbing salt into the wounds of victims. “When we heard about the award, we all immediately wrote letters demanding that it be removed,” she said.
Former subpostmaster and victim of the scandal Michael Rudkin questioned why it is taking so long to for Vennells’ CBE to be reviewed. “There has been a group litigation, people have had wrongful convictions overturned, and more people have been accepted on the compensation scheme,” he said.
“Why do people in this country get rewarded for getting things wrong and people who bring wrongdoings to public attention are ignored?”
In 2009, after experiencing unexplained accounting shortfalls, Rudkin’s wife, Susan, was wrongly convicted of stealing over £40,000 from their branch in Ibstock, based on evidence from the faulty Horizon system, which the High Court judgment said could not be trusted.
She received a 12-month suspended sentence and was ordered to complete 300 hours of unpaid work and placed on an electronically monitored curfew for six months.
The couple lost hundreds of thousands of pounds and were forced to use their family home as a bed and breakfast to pay the bills.
Susan Rudkin has since had her conviction overturned.