'Someone needs to be held accountable': Renewed calls for justice over Post Office scandal

Immortalised in the new ITV drama Mr Bates vs the Post Office, former chief executive for the organization Paula Vennells faces new scrutiny over her role in the Horizon scandal

Campaigners and politicians have called for the former chief executive of the Post Office to be stripped of her CBE over the Horizon scandal, which saw hundreds of postmasters convicted of theft.

Immortalised in the new ITV drama Mr Bates vs the Post Office, Paula Vennells ran the organisation for six years.

But before leaving, she was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) “for services to the Post Office and to charity."

With her role in the Post Office under investigation, the Minister for Postal Services Kevin Hollinrake has called for Ms Vennells to give back her CBE.

Speaking to Good Morning Britain on Wednesday, he said that Ms Vennells has "responsibility over what happened" and that if he were in her position he would "seriously consider handing it back voluntarily."

Paula Vennells faacing questions over her part in the Horizon scandal. Credit: ITV News

What is the Horizon scandal?

The Horizon computer system was first installed into post offices back in 1999. However, by the early 2000s, money had started disappearing from accounts.

Over the next 15 years, around 900 postmasters and mistresses were charged with fraud and theft, with some of them jailed.

In 2019, 550 of them fought back, banding together and taking the Post Office to court before agreeing to a settlement worth £43 million plus legal costs.

Ms Vennells refused to co-operate in the ITV drama, which has those seeking justice hoping for a renewed focus to the criminal prosecutions.

She has refused all interview requests since the scandal emerged, but will face scrutiny later this year at the Post Office Horizon IT inquiry.

In an email to ITN, her lawyers said Ms Vennells "is unwavering in her support for the inquiry and is determined to assist in whatever way she can so that lessons are learned and that this never happens again."

They added that given that the inquiry work is ongoing it would be "inappropriate for her to comment" or "participate in an interview."

Over the last several years, Ms Vennells has issued a series of statements saying she is "truly sorry" for the suffering caused to "innocent postmasters," her lawyers added.

But now that their names have been cleared, the sub-postmasters want answers.

Pauline Stonehouse had been accused of six counts of false accounting in 2008 after £15,000 appeared to be unaccounted for Credit: ITV News

Pauline Stonehouse saw her conviction quashed at the High Court in November 2021.

She had been accused of six counts of false accounting in 2008 after £15,000 appeared to be unaccounted for at the Sunderland Post Office branch she ran with her husband.

"Someone has to be held accountable, whether that's Paula Vennells or whether that's the ones before her, because she wasn't CEO when I was prosecuted, it was after that," she said.

Alan Bates, who has spent two decades of his life fighting for justice, says there are "still a number of people at Post Office who were involved throughout the period of the real troubles."

He told ITV News that those people should be brought to account, and added: "then we need to look at those who were involved in the past."

Liberal Democratic leader Ed Davey, the former post office minister in 2010, sent his congratulations to Mr Bates for his campaign.

"I really hope the government listens and the inquiry delivers for the postmasters and as I say I regret not asking even tough questions to the Post Office managers who clearly were engaged in a huge cover-up."

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