Monday 26 April 2021

Vennells' career ends in ignominy

The Reverend Paula Vennells

Having quietly left the Cabinet Office, withdrawn from her role chairing an NHS Trust in March, and last year stopped advising the Church on its ethical investments, Paula Vennells has now stopped working as a priest and departed the board of Dunelm and Morrisons.

When she left the Cabinet Office, Vennells went out of her way that to say that her short, one year tenure was entirely her choice, stressing that other people had left the Cabinet Office at the same time.

Vennells made no statement about temporarily stepping down from the board of the Church's ethical investment group, although an insider confirmed it was due to the Horizon scandal, saying she had "taken a leave of absence as she engages with the BEIS Select Committee Review."

Shortly before she left Imperical College Healthcare NHS Trust, in an excruciating video meeting, Vennells deflected a question on her chairmanship to a fellow director who read a prepared statement saying:

"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."

When she finally announced her departure, no reason was given - just:

“By the time I leave, I will have been in the position for two years. While I will be very sad to go, it is a personal decision at the right time."

It took the Daily Mail to confirm that, of course it was due to the Horizon scandal.

When an outraged campaigner wrote last year to Morrisons supermarket wondering why on earth she was still on the board, chairman Andrew Higginson produced a deeply self-satisfied response:

"I have learnt to take people as I find them" he opined, ".... It is both my own and my own colleagues' assessment that Paula is an excellent non-executive director, who brings great experience and a strong moral compass to the table."

This is the problem. Even at the time Mr Higginson was writing this drivel (Dec 2020), the High Court had decided the organisation Paula Vennells ran for seven years had presented partial and misleading evidence and had a culture of "institutional paranoia" and "excessive secrecy". Did Mr Higginson read those High Court judgments? Did he ask her about them? 

Paula Vennells has also decided to stop preaching in the Bromham Benefice, where she is a non-stipendiary vicar, realising:

"my involvement with the Post Office has become a distraction from the good work undertaken in the Diocese of St Albans and in the parishes I serve."

Tom Hedges' visible delight at having his conviction quashed on Friday was captured for posterity by a number of press photograpahers outside the Court of Appeal. He is a committed Christian and has been writing to the Bishop of St Albans asking him to do something about Ms Vennells for a while. Last year the bishop released a statement, saying:

"there is a difference between allegations made against Post Office Limited and allegations of personal wrongdoing by Ms Vennells... I cannot simply impute to Ms Vennells all of the failures found to have been committed by Post Office Limited."

Yesterday the bishop said: "it is right that Ms Vennells stands back from public ministry."

What changed? The 39 convictions being quashed? What about the six at Southwark Crown Court in December last year? I don't think Mr Hedges wanted Ms Vennells to carry the can for all of the Post Office's failings. Just some of the ones on her watch - like the cover-up.

The Communications Workers Union has called for Paula Vennells to be stripped of her CBE, and the launch of a criminal investigation

Vennells certainly has serious questions to answer about her role - including why she chose in 2015 to tell parliament the Post Office had not "surfaced" any miscarriages of justice - but she's not the only one. Not by a long chalk.

Further reading:

Feb 2019 - "The Ballad of Paula Vennells" - thoughts on Vennells' "journey" written in advance of the first High Court trial judgment (ie before anyone in authority said the Post Office had done anything wrong).

May 2019 - "And with that... she was gone" - Paula Vennells ghosts out of the Post Office at the high point of its deepest ever crisis into the warm fuzzy embrace of the establishment.

Dec 2019 - "Is Paula Vennells a Fit and Proper Person?" - Dr Minh Alexander's letter to the CQC on why having people involved in corporate cover-ups running an NHS Trust might be a bad idea.

March 2020 - "Paula Vennells leaves Cabinet Office" - purely her choice. Purely her choice.

June 2020 - "Paula Vennells breaks her silence" - a revealing letter to the BEIS Select Committee.

June 2020 - "Paula Vennells leaves Ethical Investment Advisory Group"

Oct 2020 - "Business minister asks Dept of Health why Paula Vennells is still running an NHS Trust"

Dec 2020 - "Vennells steps down from NHS Trust" - purely her choice. Nothing to see here.


Nov 2019 - "The Post Office's journey into disaster: accountability/oversight" - policy wonks only.

June 2020 - "Fujitsu tries to dodge the blame bus" - what about people who operated Horizon?

June 2020 - "Nick Read's selective awareness" - current Post Office CEO is disingenuous.

July 2020 - "The Post Office cover up, part 1: How and when it happened"

July 2020 - "The Post Office cover up, part 2: They wanted it all to go away" - naming more names.

Victim testimony - what this scandal did to people. In their own words. In all its horrible, evil detail.


I am currently running a crowdfunding campaign to ensure I can attend all relevant appeal court, high court and government inquiry hearings related to the Post Office Horizon IT scandal. Reward levels include access to the secret email, and a forthcoming book. Please click here for more information, and if you would like to support my work.