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23 February 2024

Former Post Office boss Paula Vennells forfeits CBE for role in Horizon scandal

23 February 2024

Former Post Office boss Paula Vennells has forfeited her CBE for “bringing the honours system into disrepute” following her handling of the Horizon crisis.

Ms Vennells was named on Friday in a list published on the Cabinet Office website as an individual whose honour had been revoked by the King.

Issuing an apology last month, Ms Vennells announced that she planned to hand back her CBE “with immediate effect” following a fresh fallout over the Horizon IT scandal, which led to the wrongful prosecution of hundreds of subpostmasters.

The former chief executive, who ran the Post Office while it routinely denied there was a problem with its Horizon IT system, was appointed a CBE in December 2018.

MPs and victims of the scandal have for years called for Ms Vennells to be stripped of the rank, which has the full title Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire.

Her inclusion on the New Year Honours list came despite legal action being launched against the Post Office by 555 subpostmasters in 2017.

The Post Office said she was recognised for her work on “diversity and inclusion” as well as her “commitment to the social purpose at the heart of the business and her dedication in putting the customer first”.

Demands for her to return the honour intensified after an ITV drama, Mr Bates vs The Post Office, brought the widespread miscarriage of justice back into the spotlight at the turn of the year.

More than 1.2 million people signed a petition calling for her to be stripped of the CBE.

The subpostmaster injustice saw more than 700 Post Office branch managers convicted after faulty Fujitsu accounting software called Horizon made it look as though money was missing from their shops.

A public inquiry into the scandal is ongoing.

In a statement to the PA news agency on January 9, Ms 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 subpostmasters and others to return my CBE.

“I have listened and I confirm that I return my CBE with immediate effect.

“I am truly sorry for the devastation caused to the subpostmasters and their families, whose lives were torn apart by being wrongly accused and wrongly prosecuted as a result of the Horizon system.

“I now intend to continue to focus on assisting the inquiry and will not make any further public comment until it has concluded.”

While an individual can signal they want to renounce their honour, the only person who can sign off on the forfeit is the monarch, following advice from the Forfeiture Committee — something Charles has now done, in Ms Vennells’ case.

Before the former Post Office boss issued her statement last month, Downing Street had made it clear that Prime Minister Rishi Sunak would “strongly support” a review of whether she should hold onto the honour.

Ms Vennells was chief executive of the company from 2012 to 2019, taking the helm in the same year that it split from Royal Mail as part of the latter’s privatisation.

Ms Vennells, an ordained Anglican priest in the Church of England, is due to give evidence to the Horizon inquiry in April when it resumes.

Home Secretary James Cleverly said on Friday the Government will not be “distracted or deterred” from providing compensation to wronged subpostmasters.

Mr Sunak last month committed to exonerating all those caught up in the scandal in order to ensure compensation can be paid by the summer to those still waiting for payment.

Further details about the legislation ministers plan to bring forward to help reverse the injustice was announced in the Commons on Thursday.

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