|Rev Paula Vennells, CBE|
"In order to carry out the Inquiry, Second Sight will be entitled to request information related to a concern from Post Office Limited, and if Post Office Limited holds that information, Post Office Limited will provide it to Second Sight."
"As Post Office informed the Committee in follow-up written evidence in March 2015, Second Sight had been given access to everything in terms of prosecution material that the Working Group had decided they should be given access to. This was not, itself, a reason to refuse additional documentation. The decision that was made, collectively by the Board sub-committee, was that Second Sight would not be given access to the internal files. Firstly because the documents were legally privileged and, as I understood it, it had never been agreed that Second Sight would be given access to privileged material. Secondly, it was the view of Post Office that the conduct of prosecutions was outside the scope of the Scheme. Thirdly, Second Sight, as forensic accountants, had no expertise to consider legal matters."
"If there had been any miscarriages of justice, it would have been really important to me and the Post Office that we surfaced those."
"Although it seemed there were good reasons in principle for Post Office to continue the practice of bringing private prosecutions, the Board adopted a new prosecutions policy in February 2014... Prosecutions effectively ceased during my tenure as CEO... in July 2014, Post Office engaged a senior criminal QC... to advise on prosecution related issues. In referring to this advice I do not and do not intend to waive any privilege of Post Office or myself, if any, over the advice the criminal QC gave."What on earth were the "good reasons" for continuing to bring private prosecutions - to get the number up to 1000? Because it worked? Because it was fun? There might have been good reasons in principle to do it (ie to punish and deter criminal activity), but in practice all the evidence suggests that the security team and in-house prosecutors weren't capable of doing it properly. Note Ms Vennells can't bring herself to say it was a good thing they stopped prosecuting.
Incidentally, in her letter, Ms Vennells also says it wouldn't have been her job to get too involved in the prosecutions while they were happening "unless of course I became aware of a systemic problem, which I did not."
From when she joined the Post Office in 2007 to 2014, the Post Office prosecuted 335 people! What did she think was happening if it wasn't a systemic issue? A run of bad apples? Demographics? That it was perfectly normal to go about criminalising staff like this?
Even if every single one of those 335 people were guilty of criminal dishonesty, wouldn't a responsible CEO be wondering how her company had created a business model which made blameless, hard-working people with spotless reputations suddenly turn to crime.
"The issue of whether Post Office or Fujitsu had the ability to access and alter branch information remotely had been raised during my evidence to the Committee in February 2015. I wanted to give an answer that was direct and factually accurate. I raised this question repeatedly, both internally and with Fujitsu, and was always given the same answer: that it was not possible for branch records to be altered remotely without the sub-postmaster’s knowledge. Indeed, I remember being told by Fujitsu’s then CEO when I raised it with him that the system was “like Fort Knox”. He had been a trusted outsource partner and had the reputation of a highly competent technology sector CEO. His word was important to me."
Funnily enough a year ago today, I felt I had enough information to call this out as bollocks, but it's nice to have it confirmed by the woman who was supposedly running the show. In her letter today Vennells makes it quite clear that (as any 100% shareholder should be) the BEIS ministry and UKGI (UK Government Investments) were all over the Post Office:
"The UKGI directors were fully engaged in the discussions and Post Office (including myself and each subsequent Chair) had conversations with their senior line director and the Chief Executive of UKGI too from time to time. The present UKGI incumbent director joined the Board in 2018 with a fresh pair of eyes. His questioning was challenging and because of that it was helpful; it did not lead to any different outcomes. He was fully engaged on the Board, sub-committee and with ministers and lawyers at BEIS."This will add a huge amount of fuel to backbench MPs calls for a full, independent judge-led inquiry. Incidentally, the government is still sticking to its "review", which the minister confirmed today won't have statutory powers.
"Second Sight... told us they suspected that money paid in by sub-postmasters to cover shortfalls may have ended up in Post Office Ltd’s central suspense accounts and ultimately its profit and loss account. Did Post Office Ltd, as they contend, frustrate them in investigating this possibility and did you as CEO look into this. Do you think this could have been a possibility?"
"I have very little recollection of this issue and I can only tell the Committee what I now recall. I believe that Second Sight raised it with me in conversation. Since it was a technical financial control issue, I asked the CFO to look into it, and I can see from the transcript of the evidence to the Committee on 2 February 2015 that Second Sight had already met with the CFO to discuss the further information they said they required. I cannot remember how this was resolved, but I do not recall any further communication from Second Sight to me on this issue."
If you would like to see what Paula Vennells' successor at the Post Office thinks about the Horizon scandal, click here.
If you would like to read a similar fisking of Fujitsu's letter to the select committee inquiry, please click here.
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