Paula Vennells has finished giving evidence on her final day of questioning. The ex-Post Office boss broke down in tears after being told she was “talking rubbish”. She was also accused of being in “la la land” and told an answer was “humbug”. Scroll down to see how the day unfolded.

“She seems genuine.”

The surprising words of a sub-postmaster sat close by – reacting to Paula Vennells’s apology.

It’s caveated quickly, however, with: “It’s only been a few minutes into the inquiry though” – accompanied by a wry smile.

The former Post Office boss didn’t deliver it from a script, like so many others before her.

She looked up from the witness box – and made eye contact with the sub postmasters in the room.

There is something to be said for that.

It’s difficult, however, not to assume that her words have been rehearsed and picked over by lawyers before today.

She’s certainly had time on her hands.

And – the most important thing to remember when listening to her evidence is this: much more is at stake here than just Paula Vennells reputation.

Eventually someone/ some people will have to be held to account.

Perhaps what was most striking in her apology was the offer to go and stand outside a sub-postmaster’s former branch and listen to their story.

“I would do that,” she said.

Is this a real offer? Remember, this is someone who is well rehearsed in the world of corporate leadership.

One sub-postmaster, Chirag, told me she used to “say all the right things” but defer responsibility.

Similarly – she says she plans to answer “all the questions”.

Let’s see.

Paula Vennells has faced the final day of questioning at the inquiry into the Post Office scandal

Sky News business correspondent Paul Kelso said that today was the opportunity for the lawyers and the barristers acting for the sub-postmasters to ask the questions that they have been wanting to put to Paula Vennells for years.

“She was in the stand for three hours this morning, and it was pretty bruising,” Kelso said.

“This was an opportunity for Paula Vennells to explain herself, and it was put to her that she has been self-serving and acting in her own interests.

“She was told her witness statement, more than 750 pages, was there to construct her case rather than honestly own up to her failings.”

He added that she was questioned closely about a period in 2013 when she became aware of the inescapable fact of this case, that the horizon system was flawed.

“We had the remarkable admission that she had actually taken the Horizon system out of the prospectus at the time of the floatation of Royal Mail Group. She says that was innocent, it was just not relevant to put in that document,” Kelso said

“There is a danger that could have misled shareholders, and there is a full email trail showing how she acted.

“That’s not always the case here, very often her defence has been that although information was known within the Post Office, she didn’t know about it, others knew and didn’t pass it on.

“‘Too trusting’ was the description of herself on the opening day, whether that is true or not the inquiry will have to decide,” Kelso added.

As Ms Vennells left the building, she declined to answer any questions from the press.

What happened today?
The inquiry has concluded its questioning of former Post Office boss Paula Vennells.

Ms Vennells was at the helm of the Post Office between 2012 and 2019, and has faced heavy criticism for her handling of the Horizon scandal.

She became teary during today’s questioning after being told she had “failed” in her role.

“You failed to get into this, on your account. You failed to ask the right questions. You couldn’t be bothered, could you, Ms Vennells? The risk was too great,” lawyer Sam Stein KC told her.

Ms Vennells said she “loved the Post Office” in response, but was heckled by someone in the public gallery and broke down in tears.

There were also audible scoffs as an email was read out from Ms Vennells, where she said a wrongly convicted former sub-postmistress “lacked passion and admitted to false accounting on TV”.

Another email was shown where Ms Vennells told board chair Alice Perkins she had earned her keep.

The inquiry had just heard that Ms Vennells removed a line from a Royal Mail prospectus about the Post Office’s IT system.

Wrongly convicted former sub-postmistress says she doubts sincerity of Vennells apology
Jo Hamilton has said she doubts the sincerity of Paula Vennells’s apology to her this afternoon.

The former Post Office boss apologised directly to Ms Hamilton after the inquiry was shown an email in which she said the sub-postmistress “lacked passion and admitted false accounting on TV”.

After the hearing, Ms Hamilton said: “I accept anyone’s apology but whether she means it or not is another matter. I’m not sure.”

Ms Hamilton is a wrongly convicted former sub-postmistress who was prosecuted for a shortfall of £36,000 in 2006.

Asked if it meant something to hear Ms Vennells apologise, she said: “Not really, no. I think people only say sorry, well some people say sorry and mean it, but I don’t know whether it was meant or not.

“I’m in two minds as to whether it was genuine or that she was so publicly ashamed.”

He spent more than 20 years believing he was at fault for the shortfalls which occurred at his branch in Stockton-on-Tees.

He believed he was to blame and ended up admitting to a charge of false accounting over a shortfall of £3,000 in 2002 and was handed a sentence of 200 hours’ community service.

During the break, he spoke to Sky News about the trouble he faced.

He said he couldn’t understand it at the time, and then he realised that the shortfalls were not his fault.

He has been listening in to Paula Vennells’s evidence to the inquiry, and said he was “disappointed” by her responses.

“She’s had the opportunity to truthfully answer the questions. The facts were there, she can’t deny them,” he added.

“It was her job to understand and to act on the facts and not go down the route she decided to take.”

He said those affected wouldn’t have reached where they are today without the work of Alan Bates and the support of the public.

After seeing the Mr Bates vs The Post Office TV series, Mr Bell said he “couldn’t not get involved”.

“It was compelling. I had to do something about it,” he added.

“It’s just been a huge part of what my life has been about.”


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