Saturday 3 October 2020

It was nothing to do with me, guv

On 15 July this year, during an on-line board meeting, Paula Vennells was asked to justify her employment by the Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, given her involvement in the Post Office Horizon scandal. 

The question came from a Mr "Alan Wilson". Mr "Wilson" very kindly sent me her response. You can watch it above or read it below.

Ms Vennells' view seems to be that the Horizon scandal started well before she came along, so she can't be held responsible for any decision she took whilst it was ongoing. During the board meeting, she hands the subject over to a plummy fellow who reads a prepared statement.

The plummy fellow gives the impression that Imperial College NHS Trust board members don't want to have to ask Ms Vennells any direct questions about her role in the Post Office Horizon scandal. And as they don't have to, they won't. Besides, she seems like a good egg.

That's not to say Nothing Has Been Done. The board has apparently "reviewed the situation carefully and thoroughly" and satisfied themselves that whatever moved NHS Improvements to appoint Paula Vennells in the first place, still stands. Even though at the precise time of her appointment, her organisation was actively and expensively asserting the legal right to treat its Subpostmasters "arbitrarily" "irrationally" and/or "capriciously".

This ask-no-questions approach is the Horizon fiasco in a nutshell. 

I sincerely hope a huge medical scandal doesn't surface at Imperial College NHS Trust whilst Ms Vennells is in charge. Her track record, and the lack of inquisitiveness shown by her colleagues, suggests she will attempt to cover it up, and carefully wash her hands of it, whilst they all look the other way.


Paula Vennells: "The next question is from Alan Wilson and it refers to me in my role when I was chief executive of the Post Office. What I would just say is that the Post Office issues relating to its Horizon computer system are very well documented, they're very complex and they began in 1998, long before I joined the Post Office. It wouldn't be appropriate for me to answer this question, so I'm going to hand over to my colleague, our deputy chair Sir Gerald Acher. Gerry, if you're there and you'd like to take this one for me then hand it back, I'd be grateful. Thank you"

Sir Gerald: "Thank you, thank you very much indeed Paula. Mr Wilson, thank you for your question. [he reads] Indeed no one could follow what has happened to many of the Subpostmasters using the Horizon system without being profoundly moved, but when Paula was appointed by NHS Improvement, just over a year ago, she was open about the ongoing Horizon issues during her time at the Post Office. And following the Post Office legal ruling and settlement at the end of 2019, and subsequent developments. our board has reviewed the situation carefully and thoroughly. All of the information we have remains in line with what was understood by NHS Improvements at the time of Paula's appointment in April 2019. And the board has no additional insight into the complexities of the Post Office issues over the past 20 years and we are only able to draw on our own direct experience of Paula's conduct and contribution to this Trust, which has been entirely positive. Thank you Paula, back to you."

Paula Vennells: "Thank you Gerry very much indeed, that's much appreciated. And for complete clarity I am also extremely sorry for the distress that was caused to those people over such a long period of time. I am also very proud of what this Trust is doing."

For more on the specifics of the Post Office cover-up whilst Paula Vennells was chief executive and her selective memory about it, please see: The Post Office cover up, part 1: How and when it happened.


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