The distinguished business career of ordained priest Paula Vennells crumbled following the Post Office Horizon scandal.

ITV drama, Mr Bates vs The Post Office, ensured a spotlight was firmly placed on the 65-year-old, who was in charge of the Post Office during one of the biggest miscarriages of justice in British legal history.

More than 700 subpostmasters were prosecuted by the Post Office and handed criminal convictions between 1999 and 2015 as Fujitsu’s faulty Horizon IT system made it appear as though money was missing at their branches.

Ms Vennells had a long-standing career at the Post Office, having started as group network director in 2007, then becoming managing director in 2010, before being promoted to the top job five years later.

Broadcasting Press Guild Awards – London
The TV drama, Mr Bates vs The Post Office, starring Toby Jones, focused pubic attention on the scandal (Jordan Pettitt/PA)

She joined the Post Office after holding a number of management positions at L’Oreal, Whitbread, Dixons and Argos, having started her career as a graduate trainee at consumer goods giant Unilever in 1981.

Ms Vennells studied Russian, French and economics at the University of Bradford and has a diploma in theology from Oxford University.

Alongside her corporate career, she was also ordained as an Anglican priest in 2006 and served at three churches in Bedfordshire.

She led the Post Office for nearly seven years, taking the helm in 2012 – the same year it split from Royal Mail as part of the latter’s privatisation.

Despite not holding the chief executive position in her early years at the company, she still had key decisions to make.

The Horizon IT inquiry heard, during her time as group network director, she probably signed off a £300,000 trial bill after subpostmaster Lee Castleton was accused of having a £25,000 shortfall at his branch.

Her tenure as chief executive was marred from the start, coming into the role as the Post Office suffered financial woes, leading to sweeping cost-cutting measures which saw thousands of branches close across the UK.

Her promotion also came as the company began to investigate allegations made by a number of subpostmasters about the IT system at the centre of the scandal.

There was further controversy with expert witnesses allegedly giving false evidence during prosecutions of subpostmasters, and victims of the scandal being told they were the “only one” experiencing problems.

She was appointed CBE in the 2019 New Years Honours List “for services to the Post Office and to charity”.

She faced heavy criticism over her handling of the affair, finally stepping down from her role as chief executive in February 2019.

Questions have been raised over the timing of her departure – with legal cases brought by subpostmasters such as lead campaigner Alan Bates being tried around the same time.

In the face of mounting pressure over the Horizon scandal, and a petition which attracted more than 1.2 million signatures, Ms Vennells handed back her CBE earlier this year.

She has since also quit boardroom roles at retailers Morrisons and Dunelm as subpostmasters began having their convictions overturned. She also stepped back from her regular church duties.

Ms Vennells, likewise, stepped down from her role as chairwoman of the Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust in 2021, having taking on the job in April 2019 soon after leaving the Post Office.