PM would back honours committee if it chose to review ex Post Office bosss CBE
Rishi Sunak would “strongly support” an honours committee if it chose to look into revoking former Post Office boss Paula Vennells’ CBE in the wake of the Horizon scandal, Downing Street has said.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman on Monday said he would “strongly support” the Honours Forfeiture Committee if it decided to look at stripping the former Post Office chief executive of her honour.
There have long been calls for Ms Vennells, who ran the Post Office while it routinely denied there was a problem with its Horizon IT system, to lose her CBE.
But demands have intensified after an ITV drama returned the widespread miscarriage of justice to the spotlight.
A petition addressed to Sir Chris Wormald, chairman of the Forfeiture Committee, calling for Ms Vennells to lose the honour has already attracted more than one million signatures.
Ms Vennells has previously said she is “truly sorry” for the “suffering” caused to subpostmasters wrongly convicted of offences.
More than 700 Post Office branch managers were convicted after faulty Fujitsu accounting software Horizon made it look like money was missing from their shops.
Mr Sunak’s official spokesman said: “The Prime Minister shares the public’s feeling of outrage on this issue. He would strongly support the Forfeiture Committee if it chose to review the case.
“It is a decision for the committee, rather than the Government.”
Justice Secretary Alex Chalk is meeting Post Office minister Kevin Hollinrake on Monday to discuss how to help the convicted branch managers clear their names.
Mr Hollinrake last month said calls to strip Ms Vennells of the honour should be considered.
The Prime Minister, who visited Accrington in Lancashire on Monday, sought to defend the Government’s response but said he wanted to speed up the compensation process for victims.
“People should know that we are on it and we want to make this right, that money has been set aside,” he said.
“We will do everything we can to make this right for the people affected. It is simply wrong what happened. They shouldn’t have been treated like this.”
Sir Keir Starmer has called for prosecution powers to be stripped from the Post Office and previous convictions looked at again.
The Labour leader said: “I think that the prosecution should be taken out of the hands of the Post Office and given to the Crown Prosecution Service.
“I used to run the Crown Prosecution Service, we’ve prosecuted for other departments, we can do it here – that should be done straight away.
“And these convictions, the remaining convictions, need to be looked at en masse.”
He added: “The Government could pass legislation, so obviously we’d support that if they did.
“It might be possible to get these cases back before the Court of Appeal quickly – I’ve done that when I was a prosecutor – but whichever way it’s done, these convictions need to be looked at.”
Downing Street on Monday did not say whether removing prosecution powers would be among the options considered, but Mr Sunak’s spokesman said ministers were “looking at what went wrong and what lessons can be learned”.
On the possibility of quashing convictions, the spokesman said: “We are aware of the number of issues that have been raised, I’m not going to get into specific points or get ahead of the discussions ministers need to have.
“Obviously there are significant legal considerations as well.”
The scandal is top of the agenda as politicians return to Westminster after the Christmas break, with Conservative backbencher David Davis and Labour MP Kevan Jones – who has long led calls to remove Ms Vennells’ CBE – pushing for an emergency debate in the Commons on the issue.
Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey has also faced fresh scrutiny over his role as postal affairs minister during the coalition government. His predecessor Sir Vince Cable, who was business secretary during that period, told BBC Radio 4’s World At One programme Sir Ed is being made a “scapegoat”.
It comes after ITV aired a drama about the scandal last week starring actor Toby Jones.
Reports suggest that since Mr Bates Vs The Post Office was broadcast, 50 new potential victims have approached lawyers.
Change.org said 65 new petitions related to the scandal have launched since the start of the year, with 20 calling for Ms Vennells to lose her CBE.
The Post Office is wholly owned by the Government and a public inquiry into Horizon is ongoing.
Scotland Yard said on Friday that officers are “investigating potential fraud offences arising out of these prosecutions”, for example “monies recovered from subpostmasters as a result of prosecutions or civil actions”.
The Metropolitan Police had already been looking into potential offences of perjury and perverting the course of justice in relation to investigations and prosecutions carried out by the Post Office.
Published: by Radio NewsHub