Paula Vennells: who is the former Post Office chief - and why has she quit her roles at Morrisons and Dunelm?

The Court of Appeal overturned the criminal convictions of 39 ex-Post Office workers - in what has been labelled Britain’s biggest miscarriage of injustice

Former Post Office chief executive Paula Vennells has quit her roles on the boards of Morrisons and Dunelm after an IT scandal led to the wrongful convictions of former sub-postmasters. (Pic: PA)

Former Post Office chief executive Paula Vennells has quit her roles on the boards of Morrisons and Dunelm after an IT scandal led to the wrongful convictions of former sub-postmasters.

The 62-year-old led the Post Office between 2012 and 2019 when reports surfaced of a faulty software system called Horizon, which showed financial shortfalls where there weren’t any.

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Hundreds of Post Office employees were convicted of theft, fraud or false accounting.

Paula Vennells was chief executive of the Post Office between 2012 and 2019 after a two-year stint as the organisation’s managing director. (Pic: PA)

The Court of Appeal overturned the criminal convictions of 39 ex-Post Office workers, with other appeals expected to follow - in what has been labelled Britain’s biggest miscarriage of injustice.

Now the organisation’s former CEO is scaling back from other positions held.

Who is Paula Vennells?

Paula Vennells was chief executive officer of the Post Office between 2012 and 2019 after a two-year stint as the organisation’s managing director.

The Lancashire-born businesswoman was educated at the Manchester High School for Girls and studied Russian and French at the University of Bradford.

She worked for L'Oreal, Dixons, Argos, and Whitbread, before becoming an ordained priest.

After she resigned as Post Office CEO, Ms Vennells worked as an associate minister in the Diocese of St Albans and chaired the Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust.

She was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2019 New Year Honours for “services to the Post Office and to charity”.

Who is the husband of Paula Vennells?

Ms Vennells met her husband, John, at the university dinghy club, according to The Times newspaper. He is reportedly a global vice president at engineer firm ABB.

The couple have two children together, Luke, 25, and Edward, 23.

Why did Paula Vennells resign from the Post Office?

After seven years leading the Post Office, Ms Vennells resigned from her position of chief executive officer in February 2019.

During her tenure at the top of the organisation, reports surfaced of faults with the IT system Horizon which was installed under former CEO John Roberts in 1999.

At the time of her resignation hundreds of Post Office employees were still fighting to clear their names after the Post Office took the 550 accused through the civil courts.

What is the ‘Post Office scandal’?

Hundreds of former Post Office sub-postmasters were prosecuted for theft, fraud and false accounting because of the faulty Horizon accounting system used by the organisation.

Horizon showed alleged shortfalls in accounts, disputed by those accused, and the IT system has since been found to have had “bugs, defects and errors” from the very outset.

Those convicted saw their lives turned upside down - some even jailed - based on the data produced by Horizon, in what has been called the largest miscarriage of injustice in the UK.

The Court of Appeal has overturned the convictions of 39 former Post Office sub-postmasters.

The court found the Post Office knew there were “serious issues about the reliability” of Horizon but continued to bring “serious criminal charges against the sub-postmasters on the basis of Horizon data”.

Lord Justice Holroyde said the Post Office “effectively steamrolled over any sub-postmaster who sought to challenge its accuracy”.

What has Paula Vennells said about the ruling?

Following the Court of Appeal ruling, Paula Vennells apologised to the 39 sub-postmasters who were wrongly convicted.

In a statement, Ms Vennells said: “I am truly sorry for the suffering caused to the 39 subpostmasters as a result of their convictions which were overturned last week.

“It is obvious that my involvement with the Post Office has become a distraction from the good work undertaken in the Diocese of St Albans and in the parishes I serve.

“I have therefore stepped back with immediate effect from regular parish ministry, and intend to focus fully on working with the ongoing Government inquiry to ensure the affected subpostmasters and wider public get the answers they deserve.”

Post Office chief executive Nick Read said: “The quashing of historical convictions is a vital milestone in fully and properly addressing the past as I work to put right these wrongs as swiftly as possible, and there must be compensation that reflects what has happened.”

Why has Paula Vennells resigned from Morrisons and Dunelm?

In a brief update to the London Stock Exchange, both Morrisons and Dunelm said Paula Vennells would be leaving her respective roles at each company.

Dunelm chairman Andy Harrison said: “We respect Paula’s decision to step down from the board and I would like to thank her for the positive contribution she has made to the business since her appointment in September 2019.”

Morrisons chairman Andrew Higginson said: “Paula has been an insightful, effective and hardworking non-executive director, and, on behalf of the board, I want to thank her for her significant contribution over the last five years.”