Ex-Post Office official says she blocked Paula Vennells’ cellphone quantity

An ex-Post Office official has claimed she blocked Paula Vennells’ number after she sought help to “avoid an independent inquiry”.

Former head of IT at the scandal-hit organisation Lesley Sewell told the official Inquiry that Ms Vennells, the ex-chief executive, contacted her four times in 2020 and 2021. It was five years after Ms Sewell had left the company and after hundreds of former subpostmasters were wrongly prosecuted.

Ms Sewell told the probe in her witness statement that she blocked Ms Vennells’ number because she “did not feel comfortable with her contacting me”. Her statement added: “To the best of my knowledge and research, Paula Vennells contacted me four times in 2020 and 2021 via either email, telephone call or text message. It has taken me some time to locate all of these communications.

Former head of IT at the Post Office Lesley Sewell gave evidence at the Inquiry on Thursday

Former head of IT at the Post Office Lesley Sewell gave evidence at the Inquiry on Thursday

“On March 8, 2020, Paula Vennells emailed my personal email account from a personal email account of hers. In that email, she asked if I could spare her some time for a call as she had ‘been asked at short notice to appear before a… Select Committee on all things Horizon/Sparrow and need to plug some memory gaps! My hope is this might help avoid an independent inquiry but to do so, I need to be well prepared’.

“I had not spoken to Paula since I had left the Post Office in 2015,” she added.

Ms Vennells handed back her CBE in January after the ITV drama Mr Bates vs The Post Office ignited public anger over the scandal that tore apart former subpostmasters’ lives. The former chief executive, who was handed the gong to services to the Post Office in 2019, will be grilled at the Inquiry next week over three days.

She has previously apologised for the “devastation caused” to former Post Office workers who were wrongly prosecuted as a result of the Horizon IT system. In a statement in January, Ms Vennells said: “I now intend to continue to focus on assisting the inquiry and will not make any further public comment until it has concluded.”