Paula Vennells boasted about removing Horizon risk reference in Royal Mail flotation prospectus

Former CEO Paula Vennells removed a reference to the Post Office Horizon system in the IT risk section of a Royal Mail prospectus, as it was being floated on the stock market, and later bragged about doing so.

During the flotation of the Royal Mail in 2013, a prospectus was drawn up for potential investors. There was a reference to the Post Office Horizon system in the risk section of the prospectus, which at the time was being blamed for errors causing accounting shortfalls which subpostmasters were prosecuted for.

Public knowledge of this could have been highly damaging to the flotation, with the prospect of wrongful convictions of subpostmastesr and potential future challenges.

In the latest Post Office scandal public inquiry hearing, Vennells said that she was not involved in the privatisation, but despite this acknowledged that she took out the reference to Horizon. 

Edward Henry KC, representing scandal victims at the public inquiry, asked Vennells why she got involved with amending the prospectus.

She said: “This was very last minute, I can’t remember how it occurred, but it was flagged to me that within the IT section of the Royal Mail prospectus there was reference to risks related to the Horizon IT system. I clearly arrived at a view that that seemed the wrong place.”

Vennells added that the line she removed said that there have been no systemic issues with Horizon and that the system “has nothing to do with Royal Mail Group”. She got in touch with the company secretary and said she didn’t understand why the reference was there and asked to have it removed, which it was.

Vennells later boasted about it in an email to Post Office chair Alice Perkins. She wrote: “I have earned my keep on this one.”

Later in the hearing, Tim Moloney KC revealed that Vennells had put this in her annual performance review as a key achievement.

Henry asked Vennells why she said this. She said: “It had taken some time, in a very short period of time, to remove that statement about Post Office IT from the Royal Mail prospectus, because I didn’t believe it was helpful in any way to the Post Office, because the two businesses were separate and the prospectus was about the floatation of Royal Mail.”

During the hearing, Henry accused Vennells of trying to “keep a lid on” Horizon issues, which she denied. He told the former Anglican priest: “You preach compassion, but you don’t practice it.”

During the public inquiry hearing, Vennells blamed others and bad advice for her failure in stopping miscarriages of justice and ill treatment of subpostmasters.

Sam Stein KC, representing former subpostmasters, said: “You have said repeatedly that you have been too trusting and that you accepted what people told you.” He challenged Vennells to blame some of the individuals, adding: “Who do you blame, who did you trust too much?”

She named IT executives Lesley Sewel, who was the former CIO, and former operations director Mike Young. When it came to bad legal advice, she pointed her finger at former general counsels Susan Crichton, Chris Aujard and Jane Macleod.

The Post Office Horizon scandal was first exposed by Computer Weekly in 2009, revealing the stories of seven subpostmasters and the problems they suffered due to accounting software (see below timeline of all Computer Weekly articles about the Horizon scandal, since 2009).

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