Theresa May’s government ‘pushed for Paula Vennells CBE despite concerns over Post Office scandal’

Theresa May’s government reportedly pushed through a CBE for disgraced former Post Office boss Paula Vennells despite concerns over her role in the Horizon IT scandal.

Ms Vennells, who gave up the honour this week following public outcry over the scandal, was nominated by the Department for Business.

She was then discussed by the main honours committee in October 2018, as a joint action by 555 wrongly prosecuted subpostmasters was about to be tried in the High Court.

At least one member of the committee questioned plans to award Ms Vennells a CBE amid growing outrage over the scandal, sources told The Sunday Times.

The Post Office Horizon IT scandal has come under the spotlight following the release of ITV drama Mr Bates vs The Post Office.

More than 700 Post Office branch managers were given criminal convictions after faulty Fujitsu accounting software made it appear as though money was missing from their shops.

Former Post Office boss Paula Vennells gave up her honour this week (Teri Pengilley for The Independent)
Former Post Office boss Paula Vennells gave up her honour this week (Teri Pengilley for The Independent)

Despite concerns being raised about Ms Vennells’ nomination for the honour, Sir Ian Cheshire, who chaired the committee recommending her for a CBE, “brushed them aside”, sources told the paper.

One said Ms Vennells was being rewarded for taking a tough approach to the scandal in an effort to keep costs down for the Post Office, including refusing to acknowledge wrongdoing towards postmasters.

“This was her reward for bending her conscience and holding the line,” the source told the newspaper.

Another said ministers saw Ms Vennells as “clearing up rather than being the cause” of the scandal she had “inherited”.

The former chief executive, who ran the Post Office while it routinely denied there was a problem with its Horizon IT system, was appointed a CBE in December 2018.

But in a statement on Tuesday, she said she was “truly sorry for the devastation caused to the subpostmasters and their families” and gave up the honour.

Theresa May’s government is said to have pushed ahead with the honour despite concerns (PA Wire)
Theresa May’s government is said to have pushed ahead with the honour despite concerns (PA Wire)

More than a million people had signed a petition calling for her to lose her CBE in the wake of the ITV drama.

Questions have also been raised about why she was able to keep a job as a director in the Cabinet Office after her involvement in the scandal was exposed.

A spokesperson for Ms May said: “The honours system is an independent process which awards honours to more than 2,000 people each year. Recipients are announced biannually and each recommendation is considered by one of 10 honours committees with the final list being agreed by the main honours committee.

“As prime minister, the Rt Hon Theresa May MP always respected the independence of this system but thinks it is right that Paula Vennells has handed back her CBE.”

The Sunday Times also revealed that two Tory ministers refused to meet postmaster Alan Bates, the subject of the ITV drama and a key campaigner in the struggle for justice.

Letters seen by the paper show he was refused meetings by former minister Anna Soubry and the department’s minister in the Lords, Lucy Neville-Rolfe.

It comes after top Tories urged the Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey, who did eventually meet Mr Bates, to quit over his handling of the scandal. The Lib Dems seized on the report as evidence of “breathtaking hypocrisy” by the Tories.

“Ed Davey met with Alan Bates and was in fact the first minister to do so,” a source said. “Tory ministers then refused to meet Mr Bates even as the scale of the scandal became clear ... there are serious questions for the government over why they handed a CBE and Cabinet Office job to Paula Vennells while refusing to meet Mr Bates,” the source added.