Ex-Post Office Paula Vennells accused of being in ‘la-la land’ | EUROtoday

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Former Post Office boss Paula Vennells has been accused of residing in “la-la land” by a lawyer representing sub-postmasters.

Speaking on the inquiry into the Horizon scandal, Edward Henry grilled Ms Vennells on how a lot she knew about distant entry to sub-postmasters’ computer systems.

He additionally pressed Ms Vennells on how fallout from the scandal may have upset the Royal Mail inventory market flotation in 2013.

She mentioned it might have performed, however that she was not concerned within the technique round privatisation.

Friday was the third day that Ms Vennells gave proof on the long-running inquiry into the Horizon scandal.

The query of distant entry has been one of many themes of the inquiry.

The Post Office mentioned in a whole bunch of wrongful prosecutions of sub-postmasters that they will need to have been guilty for cash lacking from accounts, which have been calculated utilizing the Horizon IT system.

Prosecutions between 1999 and 2015 meant some individuals went to jail, whereas many others have been left financially ruined and misplaced their jobs, companies and houses. Some died whereas ready for justice.

In sure key circumstances, such because the landmark Bates vs Post Office in 2019, the organisation insisted that the Horizon software program couldn’t be accessed remotely by some other celebration.

But Mr Henry mentioned that exterior attorneys performing for the Post Office knew about distant entry sooner than that, throughout Ms Vennells time as chief govt between 2012 and 2019.

She denied information, and mentioned she didn’t suppose the board or the chief knew both.

Mr Henry mentioned: “It is extraordinary, isn’t it, because Cartwright King, your external lawyers, know all about it, and yet you’re saying that you didn’t, the board didn’t – I mean, this is la-la land isn’t it?”

She mentioned: “I don’t recall that at all from the time. If our external lawyers were aware of that, and that was shared within the Post Office at the time, it is complately unacceptable.”

Ms Vennells additionally conceded that Horizon fallout would have upset the Royal Mail inventory market flotation.

Mr Henry mentioned: “If it were to be established that the Royal Mail group had wrongly prosecuted dozens, hundreds of sub-postmasters who might sue them, it would have threatened to disrupt the flotation in October 2013, wouldn’t it?”

“I’m sure that would have been the case,” Ms Vennells mentioned.

It would even have posed a reputational and monetary danger to the Royal Mail group as a result of till 2012 they have been the prosecuting authority, he mentioned – “they were responsible for the legacy of prosecutions.”

“Yes, that’s correct,” she responded.

In July 2013, the federal government introduced the Royal Mail privatisation, and forensic accountants Second Sight introduced their interim report, “which was a bit of a bombshell” Mr Henry mentioned, as a result of it indicated Horizon bugs.

“It must have been staring you in the face that if you had a blow up concerning the Second Sight report, the prospect of criminal convictions would have been challenged, this would have been hugely embarrassing politically, and potentially damaging to the flotation?” Mr Henry mentioned.

Ms Vennells responded, saying: “I don’t believe I was involved in any of those conversations. The two organisations were now working separately, I had no conversations about any strategy around the Royal Mail privatisation.”

Mr Henry pressed Ms Vennells, saying she “wanted to keep a lid on this because you wanted to please stakeholders – the Post Office board, government, Whitehall.”

He mentioned Ms Vennells was “anxious to please” the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) on the time.

The Post Office is 100% owned by the UK authorities.

“I had no role at all in relation to the privatisation, I had no conversations with BIS with regards to the privatisation,” she mentioned.

“My concerns at this stage were only about the Post Office, and as the inquiry has seen there were many conversations at this time about how we might find a way through this. I don’t believe I made any connection between this and the Royal Mail privatisation at all,” she mentioned.