Sunday, 20 Jun 2021

Former Post Office bosses could be hauled in front of scandal inquiry

Post Office chiefs WON’T be able to dodge inquiry: Former mail bosses could be hauled to give evidence after 10-year fight for justice in IT scandal

  • 45 postmasters have had convictions overturned after being accused of stealing
  • Probe into Horizon IT system at Post Office will be upgraded to statutory footing
  • This means mail chiefs such as ex-CEO Paula Vennells could be compelled to give evidence
  • Postmasters scandal has been called the UK’s biggest miscarriage of justice

Former Post Office bosses could be hauled to give evidence to an inquiry after it was promised new powers yesterday.

The probe into the postmasters scandal is to be upgraded to a ‘statutory’ footing, meaning witnesses face imprisonment if they fail to appear.

It could mean Post Office chiefs who presided over the UK’s biggest miscarriage of justice finally being compelled to take the witness stand.

Innocent postmasters, often the pillars of their village communities, were sacked, jailed or made bankrupt over mysterious shortfalls in their branch accounts – when in fact a computer glitch in the Horizon IT system was to blame.

Former Post Office bosses including CEO Paula Vennells (pictured) could be hauled to give evidence to an inquiry into the postmasters scandal after it was promised new powers yesterday

During a cynical 15-year cover-up by the Post Office, hundreds of lives were ruined.

So far, 45 have had their convictions overturned after being wrongly accused of stealing from their own branches.

The Post Office is now paving the way for 640 others to have their convictions quashed too.

After years of disingenuous denials, the publicly owned service has finally acknowledged its ‘failure to fairly investigate and disclose problems’ in its bug-ridden Horizon system.

Now ministers are to hand over powers so the inquiry can get to the truth. The probe, chaired by retired High Court judge Sir Wyn Williams, will be able to compel witnesses to give evidence and hand over documents.

So far, 45 have had their convictions overturned after being wrongly accused of stealing from their own branches. The Post Office is now paving the way for 640 others to have their convictions quashed too

A Whitehall source told the Daily Mail: ‘The impact the Horizon scandal has had on affected postmasters is truly unconscionable – and ministers are determined to uncover the truth about what happened.’

Sir Wyn had himself asked Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng to make the inquiry statutory. One insider said witnesses were cooperating, but as the probe deepened, it was necessary to ensure compliance.

Former boss Paula Vennells is among those likely to be called, along with ex-staff at computer software firm Fujitsu, which manages the Horizon contract.

Mrs Vennells, 62, is accused of covering up the scandal and forcing hundreds of postmasters into a costly High Court battle.

She joined the Post Office as network director in 2007 before becoming chief executive in 2012. On her watch there was a ‘pervasive failure’ to investigate complaints about Horizon, the Court of Appeal ruled.

Mrs Vennells’s Post Office continued to maintain the IT system was safe and robust until after she left, despite the mounting body of evidence to the contrary.

On leaving the Post Office, having banked £3.7million in pay and bonuses, she was awarded a CBE for her ‘service’. She recently said she was ‘truly sorry for the suffering caused’.

A progress report on Sir Wyn’s probe is expected this summer.

Labour’s Chi Onwurah called on the Government to extend the ‘limited remit of the inquiry, which does not cover compensation or the accountability of managers in this scandal’.

A Department for Business spokesman said: ‘We continue to engage with relevant parties on all options available to ensure we get to the bottom of where mistakes were made.’

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