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Paula Vennells, 60, says sorry for the pain suffered by hundreds of postmasters
Ex-Post Office chief executive led the fight against staff over botched IT system
She was boss when some workers were even jailed after being called fraudsters
Postmasters had called for her to return some of £2.2million earned in bonuses
The Post Office’s former boss has at last apologised for the pain suffered by hundreds of postmasters accused of stealing money from the till.
Paula Vennells, 60, was chief executive when workers were jailed, made bankrupt or hounded out of their jobs after being called fraudsters.
She was branded ‘heartless and shameful’ for failing to apologise for leading the fight against staff over a botched IT system.
However, earlier this month, the Post Office capitulated and handed 550 postmasters £58million in compensation.
Now, almost two weeks later, Mrs Vennells has apologised. The comments came two days after the former boss, who is also an ordained priest, refused to apologise to a Mail reporter at her home in Bedfordshire.
Postmasters have previously called for Mrs Vennells, who ran the Post Office between 2012 and 2019, to return her CBE and some of the £2.2million she earned in bonuses.
Yesterday, she said: ‘I have, of course, been closely following the developments related to the Post Office legal action.
‘I am pleased that the long-standing issues related to the Horizon [computer] system have finally been resolved. It was and remains a source of great regret to me that these colleagues and their families were affected over so many years. I am truly sorry we were unable to find both a solution and a resolution outside of litigation and for the distress this caused.’
It is the first time Mrs Vennells has spoken publicly about the scandal since she gave evidence to a committee of MPs in 2015.
But her comments fall short of admitting that the shortfalls in postmasters’ accounts were the result of glitches in the Horizon computer system.
She also declined to comment on the cases of dozens of postmasters prosecuted for theft or false accounting. The Criminal Cases Review Commission is examining 34 convictions.
Janet Skinner, 49, a mother-of-two who was given a nine-month jail sentence after being falsely accused of an accounting error, said: ‘It’s a brave move to apologise, but she’s still living in a lovely, big house and she received her large pay packets.
‘We’re still coping with a terrible financial situation and I’ve got a criminal record.
‘She still needs to be held accountable for everything that went wrong with a judicial inquiry.’
Jayne Caveen’s postmaster brother Martin Griffiths, 59, committed suicide in September 2013 after being hounded for money by the Post Office.
She said: ‘It’s too little too late, it’s avoidance really. It’s a bland apology that doesn’t address the real guts of the problem. But it’s better than nothing.’
Under Mrs Vennells’ stewardship, the Post Office decided to fight staff in trials which began last year. With early judgments backing postmasters, her replacement Nick Read pushed to settle with them.
It was a victory for the Daily Mail, which has repeatedly highlighted the scandal and campaigned to save village post offices. But, after legal fees, victims are expected to receive less than £20,000 each on average.