Former Post Office boss Paula Vennells has agreed to hand back her CBE with immediate effect amid the fallout from the Horizon IT scandal.


The scandal saw hundreds of subpostmasters and mistresses wrongly accused of theft, fraud and false accounting by the Post Office between 1999 and 2015 after a defective IT system made it appear as though money was missing.

There had been mounting pressure on Vennells – who served as chief executive of the Post Office from 2012 to 2019 – to give up her honour, which she received when she stepped down five years ago, after ITV drama Mr Bates vs The Post Office prompted renewed interest in the story.

A petition for Vennells to hand back the CBE had reached over 1 million signatures, while a number of ministers had also suggested she should do so.

In a statement on Tuesday, Vennells – who was played in the ITV drama by Lia Williams – said: "I continue to support and focus on co-operating with the inquiry and expect to be giving evidence in the coming months.

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"I have so far maintained my silence as I considered it inappropriate to comment publicly while the inquiry remains ongoing and before I have provided my oral evidence.

"I am, however, aware of the calls from subpostmasters and others to return my CBE. I have listened and I confirm that I return my CBE with immediate effect."

She continued: "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."

Lia Williams as Paula Vennells in Mr Bates vs the Post Office wearing a grey suit, sat at a desk in a hearing
Lia Williams playing Paula Vennells in Mr Bates vs The Post Office. ITV Studios/ITV

Jo Hamilton, a former subpostmistress who was wrongly accused of theft in the Post Office scandal, and who is portrayed by Monica Dolan in the series, told the PA news agency that she is "glad" the former Post Office boss has handed her CBE back, but added: "It's a shame it took just a million people to cripple her conscience.

"It shows the people have spoken - about everything really. It's not just about her CBE, it's about how disgusting the whole thing is."

Mr Bates vs The Post Office follows the plight of the subpostmasters whose lives were affected by the scandal, with Toby Jones leading the cast as Alan Bates, a real-life subpostmaster from Wales who played a key role in the campaign to expose the faulty software.

Many other Post Office workers whose lives were affected also feature in the series, including Post Office employee Angela van den Bogerd (Katherine Kelly) and Lee Castleton (Will Mellor).

On Monday (8th January), Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said the government is looking at the option of exonerating all postmasters involved in the scandal.

Responding to Sunak’s comments, Bates said on This Morning: "He really needs to ensure things happen now and they happen at real speed – not just at pace, which he has commented on recently.

"There's no reason these things can't be sorted quickly if enough pressure is brought to bear and it's the compensation of the original people that fought the court case that needs resolving now. It's been going on for almost 20 years for a number of these people and they've got to be able to get on with their lives."

Bates’ partner Suzanne Sercombe, who is played by Julie Hesmondhalgh in the ITV drama, added: "I'm very disheartened personally that [Rishi Sunak] seems to be talking about it as something that's just from the past – the carry-over, the fallout is horrendous and it's been going on for years."

Mr Bates vs The Post Office arrives on 1st January at 9pm on ITV and ITVX. Check out more of our Drama coverage or visit our TV Guide and Streaming Guide to find out what's on.


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