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    Post Office Inquiry: Paula Vennells grilled over past emails

    (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images)

    Giving evidence at the Post Office scandal inquiry for a second day today (23), former Post Office chief executive Paula Vennells has been caught out by her own email in which she appears to suggest “managing the media” and suggesting colleagues of using less emotive language related to problems with Horizon.

    Vennells said the idea given by former director of communications Mark Davies in 2013 that the Post Office should not review historical cases involving the Horizon IT system from “five to 10 years” ago because it would be “on the front page” was a “grossly improper perspective”.

    An email, written by Vennells to Davies, revealed to enquiry reads, “You are right to call this out. And I will take your steer, no issue. There are two objectives, the most urgent being to manage the media. The second is to make sure we do address the concerns of JA [ex-MP James Arbuthnot] and Alan Bates.”

    Jason Beer KC, lead counsel to the Horizon inquiry, asked, “Do you agree your nascent idea here of a review of all prosecutions of false accounting, if it had been carried into effect, may have avoided a lost decade until miscarriages of justice were discovered?”

    Vennells paused for a short moment before responding, “It may well have done. It may well have done.”

    However, when asked about the exchange, Vennells said she “absolutely” did not accept that she took a decision to not review past cases “based on a media outcome”. She added, “I didn’t take any decision on that, I wouldn’t have been able to do so.”

    It also emerged today in the hearing that Vennells told colleagues how it was a “goal of hers” to scour all press and refute negative comments.

    Responding to emails which were dealing with a negative article in Private Eye, Vennells wrote, “It’s a goal of mine that all press even local press (perhaps esp [sic] local press) , should be scoured for negative comment and refuted.”

    When asked about the “goal”, Vennells said she was protecting the reputation of post office branches rather than the company itself.

    “The reputation of Post Office Ltd had no weight at all. It was irrelevant, it was the reputation of the post offices, your local post office and that’s what I’m trying to say here,” she said today at the inquiry.

    Vennells admitted she should not have advised Post Office executives on using less emotive language related to problems with Horizon.

    In an old email shown to the inquiry, she referred to comments from her “engineer/computer literate husband” who gave a “non-emotive” alternative word for computer bugs or glitches.

    Vennells set out in the email that he suggested to use the word exception or anomaly or even conditional exception/anomaly. Beer asked Vennells whether she considered the words bugs or glitches to be emotive.

    Vennells said she’s not sure why she used the term emotive. She added that at the time, although it turned out to be wrong, she had thought the two concerned bugs had been fixed and she was trying to avoid any misinterpretation in relation to the work by Second Sight and the Horizon computer system.

    “I should not have sent the email,” she said.

    She adds that she, and the rest of the organisation, should have used the word bugs.

    Meanwhile, chair Sir Wyn Williams has said that the upcoming general election will not interfere with the timetable of the Post Office Inquiry,

    “You may have heard there is going to be a general election. My view currently is that that will not interfere with the timetable of the inquiry, save for the day of the election and the day after.”

    Sir Wyn added, “I have decided we will not sit on July the fourth or July the fifth, and as far as humanly possible to continue as if the election is not occurring.”

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