A Safeguarding referral to the Church of England regarding Rev Paula Vennells, former Post Office Ltd CEO & current Chair of Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust

By Dr Minh Alexander NHS whistleblower and former consultant psychiatrist, 29 February 2020

The mass miscarriage of justice by Post Office Ltd against subpostmasters spanning two decades is a most extraordinary tragedy . It is a very British scandal of establishment cover up and careless, “patronising disposition of unaccountable power”, to borrow a phrase from a prominent son of the Church.

Although a decisive High Court victory by the subpostmasters shone a very large light on the nature of power, lives remain seriously wrecked, convictions are still in place, no senior officials or government ministers have yet been held to account and importantly, there are reports that Post Office Ltd seems not to have changed its behaviour towards subpostmasters.

In France, the contaminated blood scandal resulted in jail time for an official and a manslaughter conviction for a politician in 1999. In the UK, a public inquiry into avoidable contaminated blood deaths was only reluctantly announced in 2017, thirty four years after a senior doctor had warned the UK government of the risks to the public.

Lord Arbuthnot who has supported the subpostmasters, and in particular his constituent Jo Hamilton,  has called for a clear out of Post Office Ltd’s board and for Paula Vennells its former CEO to stand down from her public roles.

In addition, multiple complaints have been made to the Church of England about Paula Vennells’ continuing ministry as a priest, under the Clergy Discipline Measure.

I have now raised a concern under the Church of England’s Safeguarding procedures, on the basis that Post Office Ltd continued to treat subpostmasters and their families abusively under Paula Vennells’ seven year tenure as CEO.

I have also asked the Church to disclose the number of complaints received about her so far, and to lend its political power to the call for a public inquiry and urgent suspension of Post Office Ltd’s prosecutorial functions.

The Safeguarding referral has been very, very kindly supported by testimony from subpostmasters, difficult and highly unpleasant though it is for them to revisit memories of the abuse by Post Office Ltd.

One former postmaster, and Church of England warden, Mr Tom Hedges has given permission for his impact statement to be published, so that people can understand what it has been like for the families. I am most grateful to him and deeply respect his courage and dignity in his efforts to see that things are put right and made safe for others.

 

Screenshot 2020-02-29 at 06.19.08
Tom Hedges, former Hogsthorpe postmaster, pictured on 8 January 2020 in the Skegness Standard after the High Court judgment of 16 December 2019 against Post Office Ltd

Postmaster from Hogsthorpe is ‘vindicated’ by court ruling

 

Tom’s impact statement follows below. The main Safeguarding referral to Paula Vennells’ bishop, Alan Smith the Bishop of St Albans, is provided in the appendix.

 

POST OFFICE HORIZON SCANDAL

VICTIM IMPACT STATEMENT BY D T (TOM) HEDGES FEBRUARY 2020

Have you ever been accused of a crime you did not commit, taken to court on made up evidence, been advised that if you try and fight the charge, you will go to jail, so you plead guilty because you are terrified?

Well that is what happened to me at the hands of the Post Office under the control of its board of directors. Sure we took the legal entity Post Office Ltd to court, and obtained partial redress, but companies are run by people and it is their actions and decisions that caused this horrendous tragedy to engulf at least the 557 people in the group action and more cases are coming to light all the time.

I suffer from a disability that requires the use of a medical device to ensure I do not die. I had to almost fight to take this equipment into the dock when I was sentenced, as it would not have been possible to get this life saving equipment to me, if I had been “sent down”. This hugely heightened my stress and fear during my court appearance.

The whole experience has effected me and my family in a hugely detrimental way. Even after the few thousand we are to receive as our share of the settlement, we are hundreds of thousands out of pocket. We were forced to sell our PO,  Retail Business and comfortable home at a distress price, about half of its value before that fateful day. We just about avoided bankruptcy and were forced to live on benefits ever since. I could not obtain a job with a criminal record. I did obtain two reasonably paid job offers, but but both were withdrawn, when my criminal conviction was revealed. This stigma sticks and hurts. If I wanted to visit the USA, I cannot, as they will not allow convicted criminals to enter, even for a holiday. Several people both individuals and whole families shunned us in the village, some even crossing the road to avoid us. These people had always been well disposed to us and was one of the reasons why we moved out of the village into a nearby town, that provided anonymity. That did and still does, hurt.

The mental toll from that fateful audit day onwards was crippling, as the full might of a huge company was unleashed on me and only the support of a wonderful wife, loving family, close friends and my faith, saw me through. I can well understand why others contemplated and even went through with, taking their own lives, if they had no support.

My wife and I have been forced to live in rented accommodation, with the high rents and  uncertainty that this brings, renting from a private landlord. The waiting list for council or housing association property is over five years in our area.

As I am now 66 and in receipt of both my state and private pension. I had been looking forward to a reasonably comfortable retirement. We had planned to sell up when I was 64/5 and release the equity in our business and home and be able to buy a small property outright and put some money in the bank for rainy days. This has all been taken from me and our rent per month is more than my private pension, so we are living on what’s left of our state pensions.

However I count myself lucky compared to others who suffered in our group, but we all have one thing in common, this experience has scarred us for life and no one is being held to account for this.

People make and carry out policies within companies, but the law dictates that the legal entity is the company. We have settled with the company and it admitted its failings, but its directors and ex directors caused this situation in the first place and are free to do it all again.

“Is that right and just?”

 

The Church of England’s Safeguarding policies and procedures can be found here.

Key documents and judgments from the Post Office trial can be found here.

This is a brief account of the government’s inadequate handling and spin about NHS whistleblowing and safety, and how this PR machinery is helping to support Paula Vennells’ position at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust:

My Beautiful (Ministerial) Launderette: The National Guardian and Paula Vennells

This is an earlier account of some background on Paula Vennells and the Church:

After the Post Office Horizon Trial: Paula Vennells, Mammon and the bishops

UPDATE 4 MARCH 2020

Information disclosed today by the Crown Prosecution Service adds to the general concern about the competence and probity with which Post Office Ltd wielded its prosecutorial functions.

The CPS can take over private prosecutions where concerns have been raised. CPS has disclosed that although its records may not be complete, it was referred five private prosecutions by Post Office Ltd. It decided to take over two of these and discontinued them. I will try to find out more.

FOI disclosure by CPS 4 March 2020 Complaints about prosecutions by Post Office Ltd and discontinuation of two Post Office Ltd private prosecutions Ref 8958

 

APPENDIX

Safeguarding referral regarding Paula Vennells to Alan Smith, Bishop of St. Albans

BY EMAIL

Alan Smith

Bishop of St Albans

Church of England

29 February 2020

 

Dear Bishop Alan,

Safeguarding concern about Paula Vennells

I write to make raise a Safeguarding concern about Paula Vennell’s continuing ministry at Bromham Benefice, in your diocese.

Paula Vennells was centrally involved in highly abusive institutional actions against subpostmasters and their families when she was Post Office Ltd CEO in the period 2012 to 2019, in regards to the dispute over the Horizon IT system.

I believe that the relevant matters fall under the Church of England’s Safeguarding procedures, especially with regard to vulnerable people and children, but also more generally to all the adults who were affected, based on the Church’s policy statement:

All adults, including vulnerable adults, have a fundamental human right to choose how and with whom they live, even if this appears to involve a degree of risk. They should be supported to make those choices, to live as independently as possible and treated with respect and dignity.” [my emphasis]

With regard to adults affected by the Post Office’s harmful actions, vulnerable or not, I believe that the following provisions under Church policy are especially relevant:

  • “Psychological abuse including emotional abuse, threats of harm or abandonment, deprivation of contact, humiliation, blaming, controlling, intimidation, coercion, harassment, verbal abuse, isolation or withdrawal from services or supportive networks.

 

  • Financial or material abuse including theft, fraud, exploitation, pressure in connection with wills, property or inheritance or financial transactions, or the misuse or misappropriation of property, possessions or benefits.”

 

With regards to the children of harmed subpostmasters, I believe that the policy provision on neglect is most relevant, and that the Post Office Ltd’s negligence and lack of duty of care to these families led to other forms of active harm to the children:

“Neglect

including failure to provide adequate food, clothing and shelter, to protect a child from physical and emotional harm or danger, to provide adequate supervision and/or access to appropriate medical care or treatment. It may occur during pregnancy as a result of maternal substance abuse.”

Post Office Ltd terrorised subpostmasters and their families with accusations based on unsafe evidence from its flawed Horizon IT system, despite holding knowledge that this system was flawed. This persecution started before Paula Vennells’ tenure but continued after she became Post Office Ltd CEO.

Post Office Ltd unsafely prosecuted many hundreds of subpostmasters, and sent some to jail knowing that its evidence was in doubt.

The full extent of the harm has yet to be revealed as many cases are still coming through the system and have yet to present at court.

Post Office Ltd lied to many subpostmasters, telling them they were the only person who had reported any problems with the Horizon IT system, when in reality it was in possession of many years’ evidence of glitches across its system.

 

 

Mr Tom Hedges

Mr Tom Hedges a Church of England warden and former postmaster was prosecuted by Post Office Ltd solely on the basis of Horizon evidence. Post Office Ltd told him he was the only person who had claimed computer error:

“During an audit in May 2010 I was accused of theft and false accounting, suspended, dismissed and then convicted at Lincoln Crown Court,” he said. “I was given a seven-month suspended prison sentence, ordered to do 120 hours community service and had to pay £1000 costs.

“The sole evidence against me was The Post Offices computer system known as Horizon.

“At the time I was told by Post Office that their system was infallible. I had not taken any money, but I was advised by my lawyer that the court would accept that a company the size of The Post Office would have a ‘bomb proof system’ and that if I pleaded ‘not guilty’ I had no hope of convincing the court otherwise. The consequences of making a not guilty plea and then being found guilty would have almost certainly been a custodial sentence.

“Faced with this prospect he advised a guilty plea and very likely a suspended sentence, was my best choice. I was petrified of the prospect of jail so chose to plead guilty.”

  “At the time the PO assured me I was the only person, claiming it was a computer error,” he said. 

 

This falsehood was repeated across different cases, and Post Office Ltd repeatedly failed to disclose highly relevant information about Horizon bugs during its prosecutions; actions which cannot be seen as mere isolated errors of omission.

When subpostmasters found they were not alone, organised and challenged Post OfficeLtd’s false narrative, the Post Office still maintained ludicrous denial for many years, with a High Court finding in December 2019 that its denial was akin to a claim that the Earth was flat.

These are all the judgments and relevant key documents from the Post Office trial, collated on the Justice for Subpostmasters Alliance website: documentation

It appears that amongst a number of possible reasons for Post Office Ltd’s entrenched and prolonged denial was the fact that government and the Paula Vennells pinned the organisation’s business plan on digitalisation and an increased range of  business activities which required digitalisation. Admitting that the Post Office’s core digital accounting system was unreliable would have been highly prejudicial to these ambitions.

But Post Office Ltd’s abusive scapegoating of subpostmasters, blaming them for phantom financial shortfalls caused by glitches in the Horizon system and demanding ‘recompense’ with menaces, was monstrously callous and subjected many hundreds of families to profound, life changing and far reaching harms.

Post Office Ltd made people vulnerable from the stress it placed them under with grossly unfair contractual arrangements and wrongful prosecutions. Once they were made vulnerable, Post Office Ltd continued to mistreat them, reckless of the consequences of such mistreatment. The harms suffered by subpostmasters and their families included the following:

  • People lived with unbearable stress for years

 

  • They experienced traumatic, humiliating events such as having their homes searched and being handcuffed, which for law abiding people was completely alien and very frightening

 

  • Mental health and physical health suffered very seriously in some cases. For example, some people have had serious stress related illness such as strokes.

 

 

  • Pregnant subpostmistresses were exposed to risk of miscarriage from extreme stress

 

  • There was serious financial loss, to the extent of bankruptcy and long term economic insecurity and homelessness. For example, one couple ended up living in a van.

 

  • The financial abuse by Post Office Ltd in coercing payments from subpostmasters, for phantom shortfalls using a very oppressive contract and threats of prosecution has still not been rectified, in that the monies have not been repaid

 

  • Many have been left without adequate pensions or equivalent security for their old age, in an increasingly uncertain world and decreasing State pension provision

 

  • Family life was disrupted, marriages came under pressure and fell apart in some cases

 

  • The children of subpostmasters had childhoods shadowed by parental stress, frank mental illness, financial ruin, loss of family homes and much reduced life chances.

They experienced enforced separation where families broke up under strain,  parents were forced to live apart due to economic consequences or a parent was wrongly jailed.

In one of the attached supporting documents, you will see that a young child had to be without her mother for 13 months because the family, as a result of Post Office actions, did not have the means to arrange a visa.

Children themselves were also subject to stigma and bullying during tender, formative years. This is one example:

“Mr Castleton described how he and his family were abused, including an incident where his daughter was spat at, because “local people presumed I was a thief”.

There is especially serious harm to the children of parents who are jailed, which I cover in more detail below.

The above harms to the children of the subpostmasters should be seen as serious institutional child protection issues, because Post Office Ltd was cognisant for many years that its prosecutions were unsafe. Despite this, it was reckless as to the harm inflicted on the most vulnerable innocents.

  • Some subpostmasters experienced the unimaginable agony of being disbelieved by loved ones

 

  • Many experienced terrible stigma and were shunned by their communities, with the stigma extending to their families. Some people were even physically assaulted because of the stigma against them

 

  • Years were lost with the complex and very stressful litigation
  • Litigation costs, vexatiously drawn out by Post Office Ltd’s various aggressive and dishonourable tactics, described by a Court of Appeal judge as “attritional” and “extremely aggressive”, added to substantially to the financial loss
  • Employment prospects were very seriously damaged because of the unsafe convictions, feeding into the downward spiral of stigma, social isolation and poverty

 

  • Being forced to litigate and to appeal against unsafe convictions were an additional, re-traumatising harms

 

  • For those who faced the prospect of jail or were actually sent to jail, this was amongst some of the greatest cruelty by Post Office Ltd.

 

The Criminal Cases Review Commission has advised that 22 of the 35 Post Office Horizon cases that it is reviewing for suspected miscarriage of justice related to 12 people who received suspended prison sentences and 10 people who served prison sentences, with the longest sentence being 2 years.  Most of the cases of jailed subpostmasters in the public domain relate to prison sentences that began before Paula Vennells was promoted to CEO at Post Office Ltd.

However, the fact that Post Office Ltd continued to prosecute subpostmasters over Horizon related shortfalls during Paula Vennell’s tenure as Chief Executive, and was willing to expose yet more people to the risk of prison, showed continuing, serious institutional irresponsibility and abusiveness.

As a former consultant psychiatrist who has cared for patients in our prison system, I am only too aware of how harsh and frightening an environment prison is, especially for those serving their first sentence.

Suicide risk is elevated for people on remand and any new arrivals, especially people in jail for the first time.

Self harm is common across the prison estate.

UK government safer custody statistics on numbers of prison self harm incidents 2012-2018:

Screenshot 2020-02-29 at 07.18.46

Suicide risk is elevated in prisons compared to the general population.

Post Office Ltd cruelly exposed subpostmasters to these risks when it sent them to prison despite knowing they could be innocent.

The children of people who are jailed suffer very significantly:

 

Prison Reform Trust: What about me? The impact on children when mothers are involved in the criminal justice system

Screenshot 2020-02-29 at 05.37.19

 

Screenshot 2020-02-29 at 07.21.59

The jailing of women in particular tears apart families and scars children.

The Corston Report 2007  by Baroness Jean Corston the then Chair of the Joint Committee on Human Rights was conducted on the special needs of vulnerable women in the criminal justice system. It concluded firmly that women offenders had very different needs and that custodial measures should be applied much more sparingly: 

“Custodial sentences for women must be reserved for serious and violent offenders who pose a threat to the public.”

It is therefore especially poor that some female subpostmasters with children were so harshly pursued after 2007 and sent to prison for non-violent first offences.

The Corston reports sets out the following important observations on the imprisonment of women with respect to their families:

 

3.25 For many women the prison experience is made worse because they are anxious all the time about their children’s well being, or even their whereabouts. Even a short absence from home can disrupt family life and lead to serious problems for children. Many women try to run their homes from prison. Visits with children can cause distress.

A lifer cited in one research paper I have read said; “I need those visits but I’ve also got some rather unpleasant scars through my children grabbing hold of me and screaming “Mum, mum, mum – I don’t want to leave you mum”…I’ve come upstairs and just couldn’t handle it, so I’ve picked up a razor…”

“Custodial experience affects women differently and disproportionately from men. For example, they are located further from their homes and families because of the small number and geographical spread of women’s prisons, which makes visiting difficult. Women in prison are less likely than men to have someone on the outside looking after their home and family and they are more likely to lose their home and children as a result of imprisonment.”

Family

2.17 Women prisoners are far more likely than men to be primary carers of young children and this factor makes the prison experience significantly different for women than men. As Baroness Hale, the only woman Law Lord, has put it, “Many women still define themselves and are defined by others by their role in the family. It is an important component in our sense of identity and self esteem. To become a prisoner is almost by definition to become a bad mother. If she has a husband or partner then again almost by definition she will become a bad wife or partner. Separating her from her family is for many the equivalent of separating a man from his job.” A Home Office study in 1997 showed that for 85% of mothers, prison was the first time they had been separated from their children for any significant length of time.

2.19 Only 5% of women prisoners’ children remain in their home once their mother has been sentenced to custody. As many as 25% are cared for by grandmothers; 29% by other family members or friends; 12% are in care or with foster parents or adopted. The case study of 50 self-harmers showed that a third of the women had been in care as children themselves and the Social Services were currently in contact with nearly half of the women. One of the most alarming statistics that I have seen reported appears in the Revolving Doors Agency’s survey in which 1,400 women serving their first sentence in Holloway were interviewed. 42 women had no idea who was looking after their children. Quite apart from the dreadful possibility that these children might not be in a safe environment, this must cause mothers great distress and have deleterious consequences for their mental health.”

Post Office Ltd thus recklessly and seriously harmed the children of subpostmasters when it sent their parents to prison knowing that they could be innocent.

Janet Skinner’s son was 14 when she went to jail:

“Her son, Matt, was 14 at the time and taking his GCSEs; he learnt about her conviction from the local paper. “We didn’t get to say goodbye. We came home expecting to see her and she was gone,” he says.”   

Seema Misra was jailed whilst pregnant, on her son’s tenth birthday:

“Trusting the legal system would deliver justice, she refused to plead guilty. She was two months pregnant with her second son when she was sentenced to 15 months in jail. It was her first son’s 10th birthday. She doesn’t remember what happened in court: she woke up in hospital. Her tears fall as she remembers how she begged a police officer not to handcuff her, begged him to let her leave the hospital by a back door and, when he refused, begged for his jacket to cover her wrists. “It was my local hospital,” she says, “I didn’t want people to see me going out with handcuffs on.”

 

Post Office Ltd is supposed to be a business with a social purpose, but it showed no conscience whatsoever in its institutionally sociopathic victimisation of the subpostmasters and their families.

Not only did it harm people who became vulnerable due to mental ill health and massive duress such as prosecution and financial ruin, but it actively worked to create that vulnerability with its tactics of intimidation, isolation and threatening litigation strategy. The fact that Post Office Ltd continued its abusive denial and resistance years after serious harm was obvious, and many subpostmasters had been rendered vulnerable by mental ill health and chronic serious stress from intolerable circumstances, showed grave institutional irresponsibility and recklessness if not malice.

Paula Vennells was at the helm of Post Office Ltd for seven years in which denial and unsafe prosecutions continued, and further abuse took place in the form of Post Office Ltd’s abusive handling of the Post Office mediation scheme and cover up of unfavourable findings by its own appointed investigator, Second Sight, which it gagged.

Paula Vennells misled parliament in 2015  by maintaining Post Office Ltd denials about flaws in the Horizon IT system and the possibility of unsafe prosecutions.

“It is important to put to bed any implication that we are not accounting properly.”

“We are a business that genuinely cares about the people who work for us. If there had been any miscarriages of justice, it would have been really important to me and the Post Office that we surfaced those. As the investigations have gone through, so far we have no evidence of that.”

Later, during the Post Office trial, evidence emerged that Paula Vennells had sought to solicit a favourable response from her staff to present in evidence to the 2015 BIS select committee. She told her staff that she “needed” to tell the Committee that there was no remote access to the Horizons system. The effect of such an assertion would be to help remove the element of reasonable doubt about Post Office Ltd’ charges of criminality against subpostmasters. Judge Fraser described the events thus in his judgment:

545….The statement in the Defence was misleading too. It ought also to be noted that the truth did not emerge internally within the Post Office in the email answers provided to internal inquiries in 2015 by senior Post Office personnel, such as the Chief Executive, who posed the specific question in preparation for providing evidence to a Select Committee and asked: “What is the true answer?”

546. She also said in the same email “I hope it is that we know this is not possible and that we are able to explain why that is”. The true answer is that, contrary to her aspiration, it was possible.”

547. She also stated “I need to say no it is not possible and that we are sure of this because of xxx and that we know this because we have had the system assured.” The true answer to that was also “yes, it is possible”.

Paula Vennells’ 2015 comments to parliament in oral evidence had the effect of minimisation and subtle victim blaming, claiming that there were only a “small number” of unhappy and vocal subpostmasters:

“…the vast majority of people have no issue with the system, and they are actually quite satisfied with the training and support around it. We are dealing with a very small number of people who have had some really difficult things happen to them”

“Inevitably, because of their distress, the people who have gone through this are very vocal and very challenging about what they have been through—quite rightly so.”

In my view, there is a lack of anything approaching appropriate acknowledgment in her public statements to date, of the depth of suffering by the subpostmasters and their families.

Post Office Ltd previously maintained under FOIA that no internal whistleblowing disclosures were raised between 2012 to 2019 about Horizon:

“there have been no whistleblowing concerns raised about Horizon”

It admitted to only a tiny handful of other whistleblowing incidents  in those years. This lacked credibility given the size of the organisation. Also the Post Office whistleblowing policy requires annual reports on numbers of incidents, and there were dedicated reporting systems in place including an online service, suggesting that a certain volume of reports was expected.

A BBC File on Four broadcast on 11 February 2020 revealed that there were at some point, Post Office whistleblowers who raised concerns about the Horizon system.  They too received an intimidating system response, which included suggestions that their jobs and careers were at risk if they did not “’move on and let it go’. This adds to the evidence of poor, unsafe Post Office Ltd culture.

Please see below the Fit and Proper Person referral to the Care Quality Commission which I sent you previously, which gives some more detailed facts. Following at least two FPPR referrals, one from myself and one from Tom Hedges, the CQC has raised a challenge with the employing NHS trust.

Please note that Paula Vennells accepted in the oral evidence to parliament in 2015 that she was responsible for how Post Office Ltd conducted itself:

Q100 Nadhim Zahawi: You are the chief executive, so the buck stops with you.   

Paula Vennells: It does stop with me. Also, therefore, as chief executive, I am responsible for the reputation of and what happens for the Post Office.”

I am concerned from the above pattern of events that Paula Vennells raises has a capacity for abusing power, which makes her unsuitable for any position of trust and exposure to people at vulnerable points in their lives, and to any ordinarily vulnerable adult and to children. I am concerned that her past behaviour is incompatible with the position of trust that comes with her role as Church of England priest, bringing her into contact with vulnerable people and people in crisis or at critical points of their lives, such as bereavement and other loss.

Alan Bates the lead claimant in the Post Office trial believed that the Post Office terminated his contract because he uncovered problems in the Horizon system:   

“I have little doubt that the reason for my termination is that I had not only uncovered limitations and potential errors with the Horizon system, but that I continued to question Post Office on the contractual relationship between subpostmasters and Post Office.”

Paula Vennells’ leadership of the Post Office represented a continuance of this aggressive institutional denial.

Another subpostmaster alleged on 6 February 2020:

“…foolishly I reported every incident encountered with Horizon, by email to Paula Vennells. Who in response sent senior managers to threaten me.”

In all the circumstances, I am very concerned in particular that she may cover up any matters which affect reputation. For example, I am very troubled as to how she might approach any reports of abuse that she receives from or relating to vulnerable people, if such reports happen to stand between her and her goals and ambitions. I see she is tipped to be a Bishop and I am very concerned if she is again given power over others.

Her lack of appropriate acknowledgment of the devastating harm caused and her recent scant apology which only caused more distress and was made at a very late stage, suggested a lack of learning.

“It was and remains a source of great regret to me that these colleagues and their families were affected over so many years. I am truly sorry we were unable to find both a solution and a resolution outside of litigation and for the distress this caused.”

Paula Vennells quoted by the Daily Mail 23 December 2019

It therefore implied a capacity for repetition.

The Church of England should recognise the grave injustice of minimising the misery inflicted on hundreds of families by Post Office Ltd under Paula Vennells leadership, which is de facto what is happening through her continuing ministry.

I attach, and will forward under separate cover, testimony from subpostmasters which includes information about some of the experiences of their close family members.

Additionally, these are links to some of the accounts in the public domain of the harmed subpostmasters’ experiences:

A former Subpostmaster writes: “This was systematic abuse… I lost my business and lost my family”

Times 9 February 2020: Victims of the Post Office’s sub-postmaster scandal on their decade of hell Hundreds of sub-postmasters had their lives ruined when a faulty IT system led to them being accused of fraud. Katie Glass hears their stories of torment, prison — and the unfinished battle to clear their names

Alan Bates: The ‘details man’ the Post Office paid the price for ignoring

Former West Boldon postmaster who lost £100,000 in Horizon Post Office debacle calls for judicial enquiry

The Post Office computer problem that destroyed the lives of pillars of the community

Criminal Cases Review Commission investigation of miscarriages of justice

“The horror of that whole Post Office fiasco was a major factor in her death.”

A former village postmistress sentenced to 18 months in jail is one of 34 people whose convictions are being reviewed

Rubbina Shaheen was jailed for 12 months at Shrewsbury Crown Court in 2010 after she was accused of stealing £43,269.

Noel Thomas: “But his life was turned upside down when he was jailed for nine months in 2006 after being accused of taking £48,000.”

Post Office IT fiasco: ‘Decade of hell’ for accused

Decent lives destroyed by the Post Office: The monstrous injustice of scores of sub-postmasters driven to ruin or suicide when computers were really to blame

My uncle took his own life after the Post Office went after him – this High Court ruling is too little, too late

Jo Hamilton ‘Victory against Post Office one of the best days of my life’

Oxford Post Office manager speaks out after £57m pay-out

“I hate everything about it. I will not go into a post office.”

“…I was told by Post Office that their system was infallible…. At the time the PO assured me I was the only person, claiming it was a computer error”

Tragic Redditch postmaster died before being exonerated of false accounting

Post Office vs Mental Health: “It’s been a living hell.”

Peter Murray part 3

Pete Murray Part 4: “You’d better get yourself a lawyer”

Pete Murray part 2 “What kind of games are you playing with human beings’ lives?”

Pete Murray 1 “The Post Office claim I owe them £35,000, despite never showing or telling me what I have done wrong.”

A former Subpostmaster writes: “I hate them.”

A claimant writes: “I felt a fool for trusting them”

A former Subpostmaster writes: “She was simply regurgitating a lie”

 Tuesday, April 23, 2019 “I balanced and it showed a loss of £32,000”

‘Post Office false theft claim left me bankrupt’

Depression, bankruptcy and jail: Why we sued the Post Office

You may also wish to listen to:

  1. This Private Eye podcast – Going Postal

https://www.private-eye.co.uk/eyeplayer/play-367

  1. This File on Four broadcast – Second Class Citizens: The Post Office IT Scandal

https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m000f5hb

I would be grateful if the Church of England would conduct a thorough evaluation and investigation of all the relevant Safeguarding issues raised by the Post Office trial, including by contacting the Justice for Subpostmasters Alliance, the Communications Workers Union and the forensic accountants Second Sight, for all relevant and also emerging evidence. I ask that you act on the Safeguarding evidence and protect parishioners and wider members of the public with whom Paula Vennells may come into contact through her various roles in the Church, including business and corporate support to the Archbishop of Canterbury.

In particular I ask that you treat the testimony from harmed former subpostmasters which accompanies this Safeguarding referral with the greatest respect and sensitivity, and not add to their trauma. It has taken great courage and strength by the victims of the Post Office to continue with their struggle all these years in the face of bitter institutional resistance. Their struggle is not over, nor are the consequences of Post Office Ltd’s abuse.

I make this point as I am aware that the Diocese has written to at least one harmed subpostmaster who complained about Paula Vennells, stating that it will make deliberations about whether he is a person who has a “proper interest” in raising complaints about her. This may be the Church’s standard administrative procedure, but I found it very shocking that such words could be used to people who have suffered so much.

In the interests of transparency, I would also be grateful if the Church of England would disclose how many complaints it has now received about Paula Vennells’ continuing ministry. I  appreciate that the Church is not subject to FOIA. However, some other important bodies which have a public function and which are not subject to FOIA nevertheless attempt to provide open access in a similar spirit to FOIA. I hope the Church will adopt the same principle.

Indeed I will go one step further and ask the Church of England to use its considerable political power to support the victims of Post Office Ltd by backing the call for a public inquiry and for urgent suspension of Post Office Ltd’s prosecutorial functions, given the weight of evidence of serious incompetence and misconduct.

You will probably be aware that No 10 has signalled preliminary willingness to consider an inquiry.

Paula Vennells sought to aggressively defend Post Office Ltd’s reputation.

In doing so, she has immeasurably wounded the Church’s reputation.

Yours sincerely,

Dr Minh Alexander

NHS whistleblower and former consultant psychiatrist

Cc Justin Welby Archbishop of Canterbury

John Sentamu Archbishop of York

Dame Sarah Asplin President of Tribunals and Chair of Clergy Discipline Commission,

Church of England

Screenshot 2020-01-11 at 05.17.06

 

3 thoughts on “A Safeguarding referral to the Church of England regarding Rev Paula Vennells, former Post Office Ltd CEO & current Chair of Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust

  1. Thank you, Dr A.

    A very difficult read. But, thank you for allowing the victims to be heard. Too often, the innocent, whether by design or by the soulless ignorance of the guilty, have their sufferings buried.
    How apt that we approach Easter. The occasion when we remember that the decent and innocent can be crucified by the contemptible for no good reason.
    I never give up hope. I sincerely wish that the C o E abandons its impression of being yet another bureaucratic clone – largely indifferent to the suffering of others whilst content to live in its own self-contained security.
    I shall be the first to celebrate if proved wrong and the C o E demonstrates its purpose by supporting the victims and by jettisoning those whose values are incompatible with honesty, compassion, charity, and insight.
    I look forward to Paula Vennells donating substantial sums to those it appears she may have wronged..

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The current issue of Private Eye No1519 has a 6 page Special Report “Justice Lost In The Post” . I felt so strongly about the injustice suffered by these sub-postmasters that I wanted to find a way of ensuring that Paula Vennells is held to account for her actions. This led me to your website of which I was unaware. I am in awe of the amount of effort you have put into trying to ensure that she doesn’t walk away from this without having to account in some way for her behaviour and hypocrisy. She is obviously well connected and no doubt there will be many in the establishment who are willing to protect her. After all she is an “important” person and these were only “little people” who were dispensible . Please keep up the good work. Hopefully she doesn’t manage the same trick that “Reverend” Stephen Green at HSBC managed to pull off………it was such a large business he couldn’t possibly know what was going on.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Thank for providing this information in detail. I was very shocked to hear Paula Vennell’s response to parliament questions about this issue in the BBC R4 programme and then was horrified to find that she is an ordained minister in the Anglican Church. How powerseeks to protect it’s hegemony at any cost – the damage to those powerless people is incalculable and thank goodness for committed and ethical journalists and people like you Dr Alexander.

    Liked by 1 person

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