What’s the right thing to do?
Morning secret emailers
James Hartley was the lead solicitor for the claimants in Bates v Post Office. When I recorded an interview with him for Radio 4’s Great Post Office Trial, I was struck that when he and his colleagues were assessing the claimants case, they asked themselves “What is the just outcome here?”
Having studied the documents they decided the only just outcome would be for the claimants, and on that basis, they got on board.
The concept of justice is rooted in a moral dimension. The law is the law, but it has to be just, or it ain’t right.
This may seem self-evident, but the experience of dealing with various establishments wielding power over our lives can be fundamentally unjust.
Given how many of hundreds of people have lost everything at the hands of the Post Office – livelihoods, reputations, savings, sanity… why is no one being held responsible?
Why, for instance, should Paula Vennells, the former CEO, leave the Post Office with a CBE, a job at the Cabinet Office and the chairmanship of a large NHS Trust?
Why, in fact, is the Reverend Vennells allowed to continue preaching about morality, when she has never once subjected herself to journalistic scrutiny about her role in running the organisation responsible for some prima facie appalling acts?
The latter question was discussed yesterday on BBC Radio 4’s Sunday breakfast programme, which deals with ethical and religious matters. The segment on the Post Office starts around 28 minutes into the programme, and features churchwarden Tom Hedges, a former Postmaster who lost everything in the process of being given a criminal conviction.
Like so many Postmasters, the Post Office charged Tom with theft, which he pleaded guilty to, to avoid prison. Tom’s case is now one of those with the court of appeal after the Criminal Cases Review Commission decided his prosecution was an abuse of process.
When Tom found out that Paula Vennells was a non-stipendiary priest, preaching in the Bromham Benefice, he complained to the Bishop of St Albans, and he talks about this on yesterday’s programme.
Unsurprisingly, neither the good Bishop or the Reverend Paula would subject themselves to an interview for yesterday’s programme.
Everyone involved in making decisions which ruined so many lives have been handsomely rewarded for those decisions. The government has already said, on the record, it doesn’t think anyone should be held responsible.
Labour think otherwise. Another guest on the Radio 4 programme yesterday was Labour’s shadow business minister, Chi Onwurah. Ms Onwurah doubled down on the commitment she made in parliament on Wednesday that her party would be pushing for a judge-led inquiry into this farce. We’ll see. I have already been told by a senior government source that the resistance to any judge-led inquiry is coming from the mandarins. The source told me “the officials weren’t happy with anything. They didn’t want a review, they didn’t want an inquiry or anything. They wanted it all to go away.”
Given an inquiry would pick apart the relationship between the Post Office and the government, including the decisions, actions and advice of the civil servants sitting on the Post Office board, there is a clear conflict of interest here.
The Daily Mail has today carefully put together a rogues gallery of the great and good (inc Rev Vennells) responsible for overseeing the Post Office’s catastrophic corporate strategy over the past decade. It’s in the paper, where I am sure it’ll be a lot more readable than the same article on the Daily Mail website which suffers from a lot of distracting advertising, but has the advantage of being free, and shareable.
The Justice For Subpostmasters Alliance continues to try to raise enough money for an investigation by the parliamentary ombudsman into the actions of the government over the Post Office scandal. As I have said before, if anyone has donated to join this mailing list and thinks their money would be better spent helping the Subpostmasters directly, please just reply to this email asking for a refund. It would be my pleasure to facilitate this (and it’s very simple to do). I will ensure you continue to remain a secret emailer!
– Peter Bell, an activist who has taken an interest in this story, has begun a google map, pinpointing as many of the post office branches caught up in this scandal as he can find. He is only using material already in the public domain. This could end up being a useful resource for journalists and researchers. Have a click around and let me know what you think.
– Dr Minh Alexander, another activist, has posted a comprehensive blog post incorporating her complaint to the CQC over Paula Vennells’ appointment within the NHS.
Finally, I would like to point you towards a trilogy of blog posts by a software testing consultant called James Christie. They display superb clarity of thought and should be required reading for the independent chair of whatever inquiry the government decides to set up.
Thanks to everyone for their comments and correspondence, as ever. I am beginning to think I am getting on top of it. If you are still waiting for a reply to a query you have raised, it might be helpful to remind me with a slight nudge!
More secret emails soon, no doubt.