Post Office spinner claims Paula Vennells developed tradition of ‘care’

The Post Office’s former spin chief has claimed that Paula Vennells developed a culture of “care” despite the Horizon IT scandal ruining lives.

Mark Davies, who was the organisation’s communications director, heaped praise on the ex-chief executive. As he appeared at the Post Office inquiry, he admitted he has asked himself whether the company might have been “the baddies”, but insisted the business “tried to do the right things”.

The Horizon IT system ruined the lives of hundreds of Post Office workers when it mistakenly made it look like money was missing from their branches. Postmasters were wrongly blamed for the shortfalls and made to cover the losses, with more than 900 convicted including some who were put in prison. Several took their own lives.

In his witness statement, Mr Davies commended Ms Vennells for developing a culture of “care, commitment and challenge”.

Emails from Mr Davies about media coverage of the scandal were shown at the inquiry, including one in which he joked about being “at the heart of a corporate cover-up”. In another, he dismissed the work of journalist Nick Wallis, who helped uncover the scandal, as “garbage”.

Counsel to the inquiry Julian Blake asked: “Email after email after email blaming the journalists, isn’t it?” Mr Davies responded: “Well, with the benefit of hindsight, some of them look ludicrous, I agree.”

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Asked if he had ever asked himself “might we in fact be the baddies?,” he said: “I’ve asked myself that question, I’ve asked myself many, many questions on this issue many, many, many times over the course of the last few months, over the course of the last few years, and throughout the whole period I was dealing with these issues. We really believed we were doing the right things.”

In his witness statement, Mr Davies denied he had sought to “cover up” issues with Horizon. “Because I did not have access to all the facts, I clearly played a part in prolonging the pain and injustice for those innocent people who were wrongly accused or whose convictions were unsafe,” he added. “I am deeply sorry for that.”

The probe was shown an email from Ms Vennells from August 2015, in which she said she did not “wish to give any legitimacy” to a BBC Panorama programme which highlighted “back door” access to accounts on the Horizon system.

Ms Vennells is due to appear at the inquiry over three days next week. She announced earlier this year that she would hand back her CBE amid public anger over the scandal in the wake of the ITV drama Mr Bates vs the Post Office.