Post Office: Paula Vennells opposed stopping postmaster prosecutions

Former Post Office boss Paula Vennells ignored calls from the organisation’s top management team to halt sub-postmaster prosecutions, the Horizon IT inquiry has heard.

Former top in-house lawyer Chris Aujard said that in 2013 the executive committee “were in favour of ceasing prosecutions entirely”, but Ms Vennells said “limited” prosecutions should continue.

The inquiry is investigating the wrongful conviction of hundreds of sub-postmasters on the basis of evidence from the faulty Horizon software.

Ms Vennells said she is “truly sorry for the devastation caused to the Sub-Postmasters and their families”.

She added that she is co-operating with the inquiry and “will not make any further public comment until it has concluded”.

On Wednesday, Mr Aujard told the inquiry he was opposed to the way sub-postmasters were being prosecuted in 2013.

His said his personal view was that “criminal prosecutions cause great stress and anxiety and didn’t have a place in a business such as the Post Office”.

When asked whether Ms Vennells seemed in favour of continuing to pursue cases using evidence from Horizon, Mr Aujard said she was not specific at the time.

Mr Aujard was the Post Office’s top lawyer from 2013 to 2015, during which time the independent forensic accountants Second Sight, who played a key role in exposing the scandal, were sacked.

When asked at the inquiry if the dismissal of Second Sight lacked fairness and transparency, Mr Aujard said: “That’s correct – certainly fairness.”

At the beginning of his session, Mr Aujard apologised to the wrongfully convicted sub-postmasters and their families for the “anguish and suffering” they have had to endure, adding the inquiry has come “far too late” for many of the victims.

Earlier in the day, the inquiry also heard from Mr Aujard’s predecessor Susan Crichton, who said she was “put into a position where I couldn’t do my job”.

She added that former Post Office lawyers Rob Wilson and Jarnail Singh had a “rather unhealthy view” of sub-postmasters.

On Tuesday, the first day of her testimony, Ms Crichton apologised to the sub-postmasters “for the suffering caused to you and your families” and hoped that giving evidence would mean “something like this never happens again”.

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