Paula Vennells to hand back CBE over Horizon scandal backlash

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Rev Paula Vennells(Photo: BBC)

Paula Vennells, former Post Office boss and a Church of England priest, is to return her CBE over the fallout from the Horizon IT scandal.

Between 1999 and 2015, over 700 sub-postmasters were investigated for false accounting and theft, and eventually prosecuted using data from faulty Horizon software.

The scandal is back in the spotlight after the ITV drama, Mr Bates vs The Post Office, aired last week with Ms Vennells being one of the figures portrayed.

She was ordained in the Church of England in 2006 and was an associate minister in Bromham, Oakley and Stagsden, Bedfordshire as the scandal unfolded.

She stepped back from priestly duties in 2021 after a historic court ruling cleared 39 subpostmasters.

To date, only 93 convictions have been overturned and many victims are still fighting to have their convictions quashed or receive full compensation.

Over a million people signed a petition demanding that Ms Vennells return her CBE, which she received in 2019 for services to the Post Office and to charity.

In a statement announcing her decision to hand the award back, she said, “I continue to support and focus on co-operating with the inquiry and expect to be giving evidence in the coming months.

“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 sub-postmasters and others to return my CBE. I have listened and I confirm that I return my CBE with immediate effect.

“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.

“I now intend to continue to focus on assisting the inquiry and will not make any further public comment until it has concluded.”

Downing Street has reportedly welcomed the move and said it is “obviously the right decision”.

Victims of the scandal have also welcomed the decision.

“It’s a shame it took just a million people to cripple her conscience,” said Jo Hamilton, a former subpostmistress who was wrongly convicted in 2008 of stealing thousands of pounds.

A CBE can only be formally rescinded by the King, upon the advice of the honours forfeiture committee. 

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