By Dr Minh Alexander, NHS whistleblower and former consultant psychiatrist, 27 November 2020
Paula Vennells Imperial’s Chair was a senior manager at Post Office Ltd for 10 years, including seven years as CEO 2012-2019, when the bitter dispute about unsafe prosecutions, convictions and jailings of subpostmasters rumbled on, and culminated in legal action which was aggressively defended by Post Office Ltd.
Related to this scandal, earlier this year BEIS ministers (who oversee the Post Office) asked both the Department of Health and Social Care and the Care Quality Commission to review whether Vennells, is a Fit and Proper Person to be Chair of Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust.
A letter of May 2020 by Lord Callanan BEIS minister to Department of Health and Care about Vennells’ fitness is provided by this article:
Statement 10 June 2020 by Paul Scully BEIS minister to parliament about his Fit and Proper Person referral on Paula Vennells to the CQC:
I made a referral on Vennells to the relevant watchdog, the Care Quality Commission under CQC Regulation 5 Fit and Proper Persons almost a year ago. It was not until October 2020 that the CQC ensured that the trust commissioned an external review.
CQC shows little appetite so far for ensuring that the external review is commissioned fairly. The trust itself has ignored a request to consult harmed subpostmasters about the review’s terms of reference and to invite their evidence to the supposedly independent review.
The Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC ) has now disclosed via FOI that a total of 71 subpostmasters have applied to the Commission for review of suspect prosecutions by Post Office Ltd. In addition to 47 cases already referred to the Court of Appeal by CCRC, an additional 17 cases are still undergoing CCRC review:
“At the time of writing, the CCRC has received a total of 71 applications for review of potential miscarriages of justice related to the Post Office Horizon cases. 47 have been referred to the Appeal Courts and 17 applications are currently actively under review.”
CCRC has also disclosed letters that it sent to the Justice Committee and to Suella Braverman MP Attorney General, seeking review of private prosecutions in the light of the Post Office’s appalling misuse of its powers.
These are the CCRC FOI disclosure letter and attached disclosed correspondence by the CCRC:
The CCRC letter to Braverman states that CCRC’s referrals to the Court of Appeal are based on an argument of “abuse of process” by Post Office Ltd.
Abuse of process in the legal sense is a most serious matter. The burden of proof is on defendants, so CCRC must have determined substantial evidence existed. The Crown Prosecution Service’s guidance notes on abuse of process can be found here. These are the broad areas covered by the CPS guidance:
Moreover, CCRC stated that its abuse of process argument is derived from the trial judge’s “trenchant” findings.
“The CCRC has so far decided to refer for appeal 47 such cases on the basis of an abuse of process argument. That argument is itself based on trenchant findings made against the Post Office by Mr Justice Fraser in High Court civil proceedings brought by a large group of former Sub Post Masters/ Mistresses”.
CCRC additionally quotes the following passage from its referral of cases to the Court of Appeal:
“In making the referrals to the Court of Appeal, the CCRC observes in paragraph 68 of our Statement of Reasons that:
“…in the context of [Post Office Limited’s] POL’s combined status as victim, investigator and prosecutor of the offences in question – the CCRC considers that there are reasons for significant concern as to whether POL at all times acted as a thorough and objective investigator and prosecutor, ensuring that all reasonable lines of inquiry were explored.”
Judge Fraser handed down his High Court judgment against Post Office Ltd on 16 December 2019.
That is to say, relevant evidence was there all along and available to CQC, NHS Improvement and the Imperial trust board, from the start of the FPPR process.
We wearily await the outcome of the external review process, controlled by a trust board which has already demonstrated wilful blindness.
UPDATE 6 DECEMBER 2020
Post Office miscarriage of justice campaigners have spotted this post by Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust three days ago, announcing that Paula Vennells will step down as Chair of Imperial:
Lord Arbuthnot a long time supporter of harmed subpostmasters has accused Post Office Ltd of lying to parliament: