The decisions and conduct of former Post Office chief executive Paula Vennells have been put under the spotlight in the Horizon IT inquiry since the beginning of the year.

As the eyes of the inquiry’s counsel and wronged subpostmasters are set to turn to the 65-year-old as she enters the witness box on Wednesday, here are 10 potentially significant things the probe has learned about Ms Vennells to date:

– Ms Vennells ‘believed there were no miscarriages of justice’

The Post Office’s chief financial officer prepared a document for current chief executive Nick Read which claimed Ms Vennells did not believe there had been miscarriages of justice and “could not have got there emotionally”.

Alisdair Cameron giving evidence to the inquiry
Alisdair Cameron giving evidence to the inquiry (Post Office Horizon IT Inquiry/PA)

Alisdair Cameron told the probe that she had been “clear in her conviction from the day I joined that nothing had gone wrong”.

Asked if Ms Vennells had been “unwavering in her conviction that there had been no miscarriages of justice”, Mr Cameron said: “As far as I was concerned, yes.”

– Ex-head of IT blocked Ms Vennells’ number

The Post Office’s former head of IT said she blocked Ms Vennells’ phone number after the former chief executive sought her help to “avoid an independent inquiry”.

Lesley Sewell said Ms Vennells had contacted her four times in 2020 and 2021 – five years after Ms Sewell had left the company.

Ms Sewell told the probe in her witness statement that she blocked Ms Vennells’ number because she “did not feel comfortable with her contacting me”.

– Ms Vennells ‘interjected’ in talks to stop prosecutions

A former top lawyer at the Post Office said Ms Vennells “interjected” when senior management suggested subpostmaster prosecutions should stop.

Post Office sign
The Horizon IT inquiry is continuing (PA)

A document shown to the inquiry described Ms Vennells as “resiling” from the proposals in 2013.

After saying the executive committee was in favour of “ceasing prosecutions entirely”, lawyer Chris Aujard added: “Paula interjected or made the comment that proposition should not be taken as what I’d intended it to be, never bringing prosecutions, but rather… Post Office should continue to take some prosecutions.”

– Ms Vennells sought to make Horizon bugs sound ‘non-emotive’

In an email from July 2013, which was shown to the inquiry, Ms Vennells said she did not want to use the word “bugs” when referencing the faulty Horizon system in an attempt to be “non-emotive”.

The message, to then communications chief Mark Davies, read: “My engineer/computer literate husband sent the following reply to the question: ‘What is a non-emotive word for computer bugs, glitches, defects that happen as a matter of course?

“Answer: ‘Exception or anomaly. You can also say conditional exception/anomaly which only manifests itself under unforeseen circumstances xx.”

– Inquiry told Ms Vennells likely signed off on £300,000 trial bill over £25,000 shortfall

A former managing director of the Post Office said Ms Vennells “likely” signed off on a trial bill of more than £300,000 after a subpostmaster was accused of having a £25,000 shortfall at his branch.

Alan Cook told the Horizon IT Inquiry that Ms Vennells, who was the organisation’s network director at the time a civil case was brought against subpostmaster Lee Castleton, was likely to be the “designated authority” who gave the go-ahead for legal costs.

Former Post Office workers Lee Castleton (left) and Noel Thomas
Former Post Office workers Lee Castleton (left) and Noel Thomas (Yui Mok/PA)

East Yorkshire subpostmaster Mr Castleton was found to have a £25,000 shortfall at his branch and was made bankrupt after he lost his legal battle with the Post Office.

– Ms Vennells suggested temptation to borrow from tills was issue for subpostmasters, probe heard

The probe heard Ms Vennells suggested “temptation” for subpostmasters to borrow money from tills was a problem and not the Horizon system.

The inquiry was shown minutes of a meeting between Ms Vennells, former chair Alice Perkins and MPs such as Lord Arbuthnot in which she claimed a small number of subpostmasters had been “borrowing” money from the tills.

The minutes, recorded by Lord Arbuthnot’s then chief of staff, read: “(Ms Vennells) said that temptation is an issue, but that trust in the Post Office as a brand is absolutely paramount. Post Office needs competent, trustworthy people on staff, and its processes and systems must be transparent and must work well.”

– Ms Vennells made ‘false statement’ in letter about courts finding in favour of Post Office in ‘every instance’

The inquiry was told Ms Vennells made a “false statement” in a letter to former Conservative MP Oliver Letwin by saying that courts found in favour of the Post Office “in every instance” when prosecuting subpostmasters for theft or false accounting.

The letter, from April 2012, read: “In some cases, which fortunately are very few and far between, we have had to prosecute subpostmasters for theft or false accounting and provide evidence which substantiates our legal position. In every instance, the courts have found in our favour.”

Counsel to the inquiry Jason Beer KC
Counsel to the inquiry Jason Beer KC (Aaron Chown/PA)

Commenting on the letter, counsel to the inquiry Jason Beer KC said: “Now, that’s a false statement there, that ‘In every instance, the courts have found in our favour’, it’s just not true.”

– Ex-judge repeatedly told Ms Vennells subpostmaster cases made no sense, inquiry heard

The chairman of the mediation scheme for people who believed they had been wrongly prosecuted by the Post Office said he repeatedly told Ms Vennells that cases against subpostmasters “didn’t make sense”.

Retired judge Sir Anthony Hooper said it did not make sense that “reputable” subpostmasters “would be stealing these sums of money” during his evidence in April.

He told the inquiry he made the point “over and over again” to Ms Vennells and then-chairwoman Alice Perkins.

– Ms Vennells ‘deeply disturbed’ over ‘clearly unacceptable’ subpostmaster prosecutions

In submissions made by Ms Vennells’ legal team ahead of a preliminary inquiry hearing in November 2021, her lawyers said she viewed the prosecutions of subpostmasters as “clearly unacceptable”.

Former Post Office boss Paula Vennells
Former Post Office boss Paula Vennells (PA)

The submissions said Ms Vennells was “deeply disturbed” by the damning judgment of Mr Justice Fraser in 2019, which said the Horizon system contained a number of “bugs, errors and defects” and that there was a “material risk” that shortfalls in Post Office branch accounts were caused by the system.

Her lawyers also said: “(Ms Vennells) welcomes this inquiry and its broad mandate under the terms of reference to investigate what went wrong in relation to Horizon, and why.”

– Inquiry heard of Ms Vennells’ concerns over solicitor showing more loyalty to professional conduct than ‘interests of the business’

In September 2013, Ms Vennells wrote in a note that former Post Office general counsel Susan Crichton was “possibly more loyal to her professional conduct requirements and put her integrity as a lawyer above the interests of the business”.

Questioned on whether she saw her role involving integrity or the interests of the business, Ms Crichton said: “I had never experienced a situation where my integrity as a lawyer was in conflict with the business that I worked for.

“I was just very focused on delivering the independent report from Second Sight – so if that meant that I put my integrity as a lawyer above the interests of the business, then possibly that’s what I did. I didn’t see it quite in that way at the time.”