‘Come clean’: Post Office victim’s plea to ex-boss Vennells at inquiry

Business

A victim of the Post Office Horizon scandal has told Sky News that ex-boss Paula Vennells must “come clean” in her evidence to the statutory inquiry.

Chirag Sidhpura, a former sub-postmaster who became one of the public champions for justice based on his own treatment at the hands of the Post Office, said he was expecting a “culture of denial” and “lies” over Ms Vennells’ three days of scheduled evidence.

She is due before the inquiry later this morning.

The 65-year-old, who was Post Office chief executive from 2012 to 2019, will be speaking publicly about what happened for the first time in almost a decade.

While she has since acknowledged that sub-postmasters were wrongly accused and prosecuted over faults in the Horizon accounting system under her watch, the inquiry will seek to uncover what she knew and when.

She told a committee of MPs in 2015: “We are a business that genuinely cares about the people who work for us. If there had been any miscarriages of justice, it would have been really important to me and the Post Office that we surfaced those. As the investigations have gone through, so far we have no evidence of that.”

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Chirag Sidhpura: ‘I have had breakdowns’

Victims at the heart of this scandal beg to differ.

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Post Office prosecutors were alerted to bugs with Horizon days before the trial and eventual conviction of sub-postmaster Seema Misra in 2010 – before Ms Vennells had taken over.

There is further evidence – in the form of recordings leaked to Sky News – to suggest Ms Vennells had been told by May 2013 that Horizon operator Fujitsu had remote access to the system.

On Tuesday, ITV News reported that she described potential wrongful convictions of sub-postmasters in an October 2013 email as “very disturbing”.

That was written more than a year before the company halted prosecutions.

Chirag Sidhpura’s experience

Chirag had written to Ms Vennells personally about his own case in 2017. A week later, his contract was terminated.

He chose to hand over more than £57,000 to avoid prosecution. He lost not only his business but also his house and mental health.

Chirag said of Ms Vennells’ evidence: “I think there is still going to be a culture of denial, lies, ‘I don’t remember, I don’t recall’.

“It is put to you in black and white you have done this, you made these decisions. Just come clean.”

ITV drama Mr Bates vs The Post Office ensured a spotlight was firmly placed on Ms Vennells, whose career has included stints at companies including L’Oreal and in the NHS.

She is also an Anglican priest.


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Read more:
Who is Paula Vennells?
The major questions for key Post Office boss to answer – and why her replies matter
The Post Office Horizon scandal explained

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Ex-Post Office exec accused of lying

A lawyer’s view

Paul Marshall, a lawyer for victims, told Sky News that the evidence from Ms Vennells was an opportunity to “make confession”, claiming she presided over a Post Office “cult” which had a corporate inability to accept flaws.

“In one sense, she was or became the leader of what was indistinguishable from a cult.

“It had a belief system in which everything that didn’t coincide with that cult and its set of beliefs had to be either destroyed or excluded and removed.”

Ms Vennells has pledged to co-operate fully with the inquiry and, like all witnesses, must give an oath to tell the truth ahead of her evidence.

A statement released by her earlier this year stated: “I continue to support and focus on co-operating with the inquiry and expect to be giving evidence in the coming months.

“I am truly sorry for the devastation caused to the sub-postmasters and their families, whose lives were torn apart by being wrongly accused and wrongly prosecuted as a result of the Horizon system.

“I now intend to continue to focus on assisting the Inquiry and will not make any further public comment until it has concluded.”

Follow the questioning of Paula Vennells at the inquiry live on Sky News on Wednesday. Watch Sky News live here, and on YouTube, or on TV on Freeview 233, Sky 501, Virgin 603, and BT 313. You can also follow the latest on the Sky News website and app.

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