Vennells Day 2: Cover-up finally acknowledged

Vennells giving evidence

During her evidence to the Inquiry today Paula Vennells finally admitted there was cover-up at the Post Office on her watch.

Counsel to the Inquiry Jason Beer took her to a letter dated 12 July 2013. It was from the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC), the statutory body which investigates potential miscarriages of justice in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The letter was prompted by Second Sight’s Interim Report, which was published on 8 July 2013. It says:

“We’ve read the recent media coverage concerning the Post Office Horizon computer system with interest. Clearly it would be very useful for us to have more information directly from the Post Office, especially accurate information as to the number of criminal convictions that might be impacted by the issue, and what action is proposed or being taken in that respect.”

The CCRC adds: “We see that the AG [Attorney General] was called upon on Tuesday to set up an inquiry. We’re in contact with his office about that.

The CCRC’s letter to Paula Vennells

A Big Deal

Beer noted this letter “arrived at a time when you’d been told by Susan Crichton [Post Office General Counsel] and Lesley Sewell [Post Office CIO] about the concern about the Fujitsu expert witnesses’ evidence to the courts, including in the Seema Misra case?”

This was a reference to the First Clarke Advice about Fujitsu engineer Gareth Jenkins. Vennells was never shown the Advice, but its contents were relayed to her (on separate occasions) by the two above-named execs.

Would Vennells agree, wondered Beer, “that the right and honest thing to do would have been to let the CCRC know about the Post Office’s concerns over Gareth Jenkins?”

Vennells washed her hands of it: “What I did with this letter was to ask Susan [Crichton, the Post Office General Counsel] to reply as the legal expert in the organisation. I don’t believe that I would have given her direction as to how we should reply to it. I wouldn’t have either instructed her to leave things out.”

Beer reframed his question as a statement “The right and honest thing for the Post Office to have done would be to have let the CCRC know, and know promptly, over its concerns about the truthfulness and reliability of the evidence that Gareth Jenkins had given to the courts.”

“Yes, it would”, agreed Vennells.

“That didn’t happen for years and years, did it?” asked Beer.

“I understand that to be the case now”, replied Vennells.

Vennells might think her actions exculpate her. She gave it to her General Counsel to deal with. But did she follow it up? Did she seek a meeting with the CCRC to explain their Gareth Jenkins problem? Did she demand regular updates from her legal team as to their progress with the CCRC? What did her legal team do with the CCRC letter?

Remember on Tuesday this week, the Inquiry saw an email from the Post Office’s Head of Legal, Hugh Flemington, who had been forwarded the CCRC letter by Crichton. Flemington suggested the Post Office “give off the signals that we are proactive, doing all the right things re writing to people to keep the AG and CCRC calm. Hopefully if they see that they may leave us to it.” 

Giving off “signals” evidently did not involve handing over or even divulging the existence of the Clarke Advice. That is not right and honest behaviour. That is wrong and dishonest behaviour. It is a cover-up. 

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30 responses to “Vennells Day 2: Cover-up finally acknowledged”

  1. […] Day 1: Five things we learnedVennells Day 2: Cover-up finally acknowledgedVennells Day 2: Dispatches from the […]

  2. Has anyone quoted the Peter Principle
    The Peter Principle, a concept in management theory that states that workers are promoted to their level of incompetence.
    But, of course, incompetence is not a criminal offence!

  3. Is there a law against what she did during her time at the Post Office? Or is she in the clear.
    The Board above her took final decisions. People below her did the work. She went around visiting hundreds of Post Offices, PR, and reading selective emails.
    How can they pin the blame on her?I
    I think I will start a “Paula Vennables is innocent” campaign and seek crowd funding. The huge sum it receives will show what the public think.

    1. She was on the Board for some of the time.
      Conspiracy to pervert the course I justice is what they’ll try to get her on.

      Nice idea re crowdfunding 😂
      Maybe wait until Alan bates starts his for private prosecutions, which by comparison will raise millions!

      1. Definitely obstructing justice.
        I worked as an Information Security Manager in RM (including POL at the time).
        The team produced regular (monthly I think) Risk reports which included Horizon risks.
        As would other teams, especially the Horizon Development teams in Chesterfiled, and Fujitsu.
        She cannot claim that she did not know.
        And why did she stop Second Sight, and others, seeing the Horizon fault reports?
        She has been quoted as saying that Horizon had no faults. An absolutely absurd statement – ALL systems, however large or small, has faults.

  4. Alan Cornforth avatar
    Alan Cornforth

    I totally agree with your observation. They are certainly not blameless but it is clear she wants to scapegoat people who stood up to her!

  5. Every interview I have seen with a SPM shows someone who was rational, dismayed by the actions of the PO and utterly convincing in their protestations of innocence. How could PV imagine that there were so many supremely able confidence tricksters, such brilliantly persuasive liars, who were happy to confine their talents to local communities? How could an ordained minister be so utterly cynical about people who were quite clearly telling the truth? And even now she blames others: “I didn’t know.” “I wasn’t told”. “In hindsight……..” It’s gutless, and sickening.

    1. And Tony Hooper and James Arbuthnot both repeatedly pointed that out to her!

  6. The Sub Postmasters and public gallery showed incredible restraint during Ms. Vennells’s testimony before the inquiry this week. That Jane MacLeod and Mike Young are not going to be participants is a real setback, since Ms. Vennells implicates them in her intractable version of events during her leadership.

    But try as Ms. Vennells might, Mr. Beer exposed her fabulist tendency to “have corridor conversations” that magically exonerated her, while the trail of written documents contradicted her accounts.

  7. What a great job she had. During her tenure at POL she pocketed circa £5m in pay, bonuses and pension contributions while, if one accepts her evidence, doing no work herself, having no responsibilites, not reading documents and forgetting what went on at meetings! I was a senior manager at Post Office Counters Ltd and Royal Mail 89-2004 and Maybe we f I had adopted her approach to my work, it including faithfully remembering corridor conversations rather than what happened in formal meetings then I could have made it to board level?

  8. I absolutely agree that PV should have followed up with the PO’s General Counsel. I think the biggest culprits are PV for the culture, the ethics committee (was there one?!!) who were clearly failing miserably, the IT Director (for obvious reasons), the Director responsible for the legal team (there are no words!), and the Finance Director (how the hell can you understand the finances of a business when your IT system can’t provide transaction listings for your post offices. I also understand that the Post Office have no record of compensation received from postmasters – but this may be wrong?).

  9. Has any expert tried looking for common facial cues indicative of deception among the witness.

    1. I noticed PV blinking rapidly during many of the lines of questioning – blinking like that is known to be a sign of lying (although we all knew that already).

  10. Nick,

    I am a lawyer with 4 decades’ experience and have run an investigations team in the City. I currently run the whistleblowing programme for a major global entity.

    If you get a letter like that, there is no way that you send a reply back without making sure the CEO is aware and signs off on the substance of the response. Absolutely none. No GC would expose themselves to criticism or potential personal liability by doing that. It is simply not credible that the PO’s top managers did not know and approve of the approach the lawyers were taking. Nor, frankly, is it credible that the Business Department and Ministers did not know.

    This scandal is not just about the misbehaviour of the Post Office and its cover up. But increasingly about the state’s involvement in the cover up of the miscarriage of justice.

    Very happy to provide you with more thoughts, if that would be helpful.

    1. Your analysis is absolutely correct.

      What fools they think we are.

    2. Please do continue with your thoughts.
      My interest lies in the fact that throughout the Inquiry witnesses have stated that there was a prevailing presumption throughout all levels of management in POL that Horizon was robust and free from bugs and errors. No-one though could pin down where the source of that assumption lay.
      However, when we see PV ask her technical experts in emails and calls about the true state of Horizon’s reliability and robustness, she also tells them the answer she is looking for; “I have to be able to say the system is robust” and “I need to know there is no remote access” etc. When your boss is asking you a question, and also supplies you with the answer, it’s a brave or unambitious subordinate who supplies the answer that refutes the presumed conclusion.

  11. This is a classic case of not following the oldest mantra in management ; one which all management training courses include. “You can delegate the task, but not the responsibility”. Vennells may have asked others to do something ; but the onus was still on her to ensure that it got done. Or in the American vernacular – “The buck stopped with her.”

  12. Thanks as ever for your reporting – annoying to note that the media seem to have already moved down a gear since the General Election announcement.

    I’m coming to the conclusion that PV has probably spent the last few weeks/months rehearsing her answers to the disclosure info, mainly because – when pressed on a point – she speaks in terms of what is accessible in her knowledge of the document collection rather than in terms of the reality of her own past experience. It feels as though she is frantically racing through what can be proved from said document collection before answering. Would be interesting to know if other people assisted her with her labours.

    Her weak point is where the incontrovertible evidence is there on paper and she says ‘I don’t think that…’ i.e. tries to deny what is on the printed page, often by suggesting that there is another possible interpretation of the words. JB is most effective when he effectively says to her ‘those are your words, there is no other interpretation – is there?’.
    Her tactic – when an incontrovertible truth is shown in print – is to waffle on in order to quickly defuse the situation and ‘muddy the waters’. Again, I think that the best way to nail the lovely lady is to repeat that truth from the text and press her on why her reading of the words differs from the rest of the human race. She is not at all happy to admit any ‘mistake’.

    Did occur to me today that PV could simply have asked to address the Enquiry in the first five minutes, admitted that she had done wrong, and begged for forgiveness. Don’t laugh, it has happened elsewhere and of course would have been a very Christian type of behaviour
    Had she done that – even minus tears – she would have been viewed far more favourably by the UK population and achieved some measure of forgiveness.

    Instead she has chosen to pretend that she was effectively infallible and never intentionally caused harm to SPMs, thereby wasting the time of all of us, I assume whllst being fully aware that the reverse is far more likely to be the case. As Moya Greene said in her text, hard to understand what God she worships.

    Fingers crossed JB has a hat and a well concealed rabbit for Day 3 – so far JV has proved to be annoyingly adept at self-preservation.
    Talking of which, can’t remember any media having delved much into her past career at companies elsewhere – surely there are some disgruntled ex-colleagues with some enlightening anecdotes about her ethics?

    1. I think the fact she was sacked from everywhere else makes further delving irrelevant- and says a lot about PO and those who promoted her there!

      1. She was not sacked.
        She resigned.

  13. I thought that it was astonishing that it took her 6 years to know that PO itself prosecuted. Day 1 give me an organisation chart, oh you have a Legal Dept what does that do. She should have known that from day 1.
    Second it never occured to her that if there were 2 bugs there might be another 2 undiscovered or 20 more undiscovered. I find that incredible. Her lack of IT and Legal knowledge was appalling. She was on the Risk and Compliance Committee and a 3rd party runs your IT yet it never comes up as a risk. Incredible incompetence.

  14. Truly there is none so blind as them that won’t see.
    Poor liddle Paula. She worked for a big Post Office (and with trusted colleagues) that just kept trying to do right thing but strangely kept getting it wrong. Her response can be summed up as “Not my fault gov, I tried my best”

    Have you notice that when she admits fault it is never her – it is always the “the post office” or “my trusted colleagues”.

  15. What really fascinates me, is her constant reference to Lesley Sewell and Susan Crichton. These are the two people that she effectively kicked out of the organisation , she very rarely mentions anyone else.

  16. One thing that has struck me over the last two days of testimony is how often PV says something like “you will find a record of this in the documentation”. It seems to me that she has meticulously read doubtless huge amounts of material that has been disclosed, and on the basis of that decided what she can admit to and what she can say she has no recollection of. As more disclosure comes through (if POL follows its practice of late disclosure), perhaps she will be caught out by this tactic.

    1. One wonders how much coaching from POL lawyers they had. To follow a script; it wouldn’t be the first time. (as per the ‘auditors’ – “…. you are the only one”).

  17. Just wondering if the Met and other police forces are following the inquiry and considering prosecutions for Post office executives regarding perverting the course of justice

  18. Vennells demonstrated today what Alisdair Cameron said in his evidence, she didn’t believe there had been a miscarriage of justice, “she couldn’t have got there emotionally” What a demonstration of someone totally lacking in the skills to do the job she was paid for. A pitiful display of someone completely out of their depth or a wilful liar, which is it? Have now purchased your book Nick.

  19. Alan Cornforth avatar
    Alan Cornforth

    We have a whole day of core participants representatives asking her questions tomorrow!! I just can’t imagine Sam Stein, Ed Henry, etc waiting for those interminable pauses after each question to finish without interjecting? She will do well to answer all their questions as i’m sure the inquiry room will be jam-packed with core participants again!

  20. “Delusional bubbles are fine for most of us, but they can cause problems when you have real power over real peoples’ lives.”
    She strikes me as a real world version of the Joyce Grenfell character whilst the team around her were the mix of wide boys. misfits and rowdy gels. Great fun till you reach the real world and the real people.
    It must have been obvious to all around that she was an airhead.

  21. It’s absolutely excruciating watching and listening to SV try to make it seem as the CEO she was beholden to everyone else and not the other way around. I’d love to know how she squares her faith with her behaviour.

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