Vennells ‘heading into corner where there’s no way out’ before inquiry showdown

Jo Hamilton

A campaigner and former subpostmistress has called on former Post Office chief executive Paula Vennells to tell the truth at the Horizon IT inquiry as she is “heading into the corner where there’s no way out”.

Jo Hamilton was falsely accused of stealing £36,000 from the Post Office branch she ran in South Warnborough, Hampshire.

She pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of false accounting to avoid going to jail and was prosecuted in 2006.

Ahead of Ms Vennells’ evidence to the probe on Wednesday, Ms Hamilton said if she was in the former Post Office boss’s position, she would “just put my hands up” and say “I’m really sorry and this is what happened’.

She told the PA news agency: “We just want the truth.

“You’d have thought a bit of her humanity would have come out and she should have done the right thing.

“I don’t know – is she feeble? Is she really a feeble person? Was she over-promoted?

“The whole thing I find bizarre. I’m really intrigued to know what she’s going to come out with.

“I’m not expecting anything, so anything she gives us will be a bonus – but I would love her just to tell the truth.”

During the evidence of the Post Office’s current chief financial officer Alisdair Cameron on Friday, the probe heard Ms Vennells did not believe there had been miscarriages of justice and “could not have got there emotionally”.

Former Post Office boss Paula Vennells Credit: PA

Commenting on the evidence, Ms Hamilton said: “She did know.

“The tone of some of her emails – I’m sure of it. So she knew they were in trouble.

“I’m obviously not privy to all the disclosure like the lawyers are but I know there’s stuff that exists that shows she knew, and she just carried it on.

“I don’t know if she hoped that in the end they’d have enough money and outspend us – I think that was the plan.”

The inquiry is yet to hear substantially from Ms Vennells, but a document submitted by her lawyers ahead of a preliminary hearing in 2021 said she was “deeply disturbed” by the judgments in the cases against lead campaigner Alan Bates and Ms Hamilton in which Horizon was found to be faulty.

Ms Hamilton told PA: “I think she probably is deeply disturbed, because you couldn’t be human and not, could you?

Former subpostmistress Jo Hamilton arrives at Aldwych House Credit: Jeff Moore/PA

“And a vicar – what the hell is she doing?

“Even if she was an ordinary person… what on earth kind of person is that?”

Questioned on what she would like to hear from Ms Vennells’ evidence on Wednesday, Ms Hamilton said: “Interestingly, she gave her resignation in 2018, that was just as the trials were starting.

“So she must have known, doing that, what was going to come out – otherwise why wouldn’t she stay?

“She must have known she was done for.

She continued: “It’s not even about the remote access, it’s about not listening to people and dismissing people.

“It’s just, why didn’t she do the right thing?

“She had it in her gift to sort it out at the mediation – that was staring her straight in the face – and what she should have done then was say ‘do you know what, we’ve been really bad, let’s just sort this out’.

“But she doubled down.”

She continued: “Eventually, if there are criminal charges for perverting the course of justice, she might as well come clean now, because as I was told, if you do an early plea, you get a lesser sentence – except I hadn’t done anything.

“If I was her, I wouldn’t be in that position in the first place, but if I was her I would just put my hands up now and say ‘do you know what, we’re all in it up to our necks, I’m really sorry and this is what happened’ and then take it on the chin.

“You can fight all you like, the documents are there – but eventually she’s heading into the corner where there’s no way out.”

Media outside Aldwych House, central London for the Post Office Horizon IT inquiry Credit: James Manning/PA

Solicitor Neil Hudgell, whose firm represents Ms Hamilton and 74 other subpostmasters, said: “Our clients have waited a very long time to hear Ms Vennells’ evidence, and it goes without saying that the week ahead is of monumental significance.

“It is not for me to speculate on what evidence Ms Vennells may give to the Inquiry, but as the operational head of the organisation it is for her to take ownership and accountability for what went on during her term of office.

“Victims of this scandal are re-traumatised every time they hear denial, untruth or subterfuge and can’t begin to move on without answers, accountability and genuinely expressed regret and sorrow.

“We sincerely hope that Ms Vennells will deliver on her promise to bring much needed clarity and understanding to these proceedings.”

The Post Office has come under fire after ITV drama Mr Bates Vs The Post Office, which put the Horizon IT scandal under the spotlight.

More than 700 subpostmasters were prosecuted by the Post Office and handed criminal convictions between 1999 and 2015 as Fujitsu’s faulty Horizon system made it appear as though money was missing at their branches.

Hundreds of subpostmasters are still awaiting full compensation despite the Government announcing those who have had convictions quashed are eligible for £600,000 payouts.