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Former Canadian CEO’s texts reveal accusations about U.K. Post Office scandal

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Former CEO of Post Office Limited Paula Vennells arrives to give evidence to the Post Office Horizon IT Inquiry, in London, on May 22.HENRY NICHOLLS/Getty Images

A Canadian businesswoman who ran Britain’s Royal Mail for nearly a decade has accused a senior executive of knowing about a scandal that has shaken Britain’s post office, according to text messages released at a public inquiry on Wednesday.

Moya Greene, a former CEO of Canada Post, served as chief executive of Royal Mail delivery service from 2010 to 2018. Her term overlapped largely with Paula Vennells, who headed the Post Office. Royal Mail was privatized in 2012 and split from the publicly owned Post Office, which operates a network of branches that offer postal, financial and government services.

The two women were close colleagues, but in the recent messages, Ms. Greene implicated Ms. Vennells in the scandal that saw the wrongful pursuit of criminal cases against 900 branch managers, known as sub-postmasters.

“I am sorry,” Ms. Greene wrote Ms. Vennells in a text sent last January. “I have supported you all these years, to my own detriment. I can’t support you now after what I have learned.”

The text messages emerged as Ms. Vennells, the Post Office’s CEO from 2012 to 2019, testified at a public inquiry into the scandal examining the Post Office’s wrongful prosecutions of employees.

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Between 1999 and 2015, hundreds of sub-postmasters were convicted and even jailed for theft, fraud or false accounting over issues that were actually caused by the Post Office’s accounting software called Horizon.

Dozens of convictions have been overturned and the government has offered a compensation package to victims. The scandal was recently portrayed in the popular television drama Mr. Bates vs The Post Office that caused a public outcry when it aired in January.

The inquiry, which began in 2021, has heard from sub-postmasters who said their lives have been ruined by the prosecutions. At least four suicides have been blamed on the scandal and thousands of sub-postmasters went bankrupt after being forced by the Post Office to make up shortfalls in their branch balances.

Ms. Vennells began her testimony by apologizing to the sub-postmasters “who suffered as a result of all of the matters that the inquiry has been looking into for so long.”

She broke down in tears at times and insisted that she wasn’t fully briefed about problems with Horizon. She also said she wasn’t aware of the scale of the Post Office’s aggressive pursuit of sub-postmasters, even once questions were raised about Horizon early after the software was launched in 1999.

“One of my reflections of all of this, I was too trusting,” she told the inquiry. “I should have known and I should have asked more questions.”

At one point the inquiry’s lead council, Jason Beer, asked Ms. Vennells about the texts with Ms. Greene, who has not spoken publicly about the scandal.

Ms. Vennells said the messages had been sent in January after Ms. Greene returned to Britain from a trip and the television show was causing a public stir. In one message, Ms. Greene said the information that had come to light was “very damaging.” She said the Post Office should have stopped the legal actions and compensated sub-postmasters.

Ms. Vennells replied that she agreed and that “the toll on everyone affected is dreadful.”

Ms. Greene responded, “I don’t know what to say. I think you knew.” When Ms. Vennells said “that isn’t the case,” Ms. Greene wrote, “I want to believe you.”

Ms. Greene went on to say that she had twice suggested to Ms. Vennells that she launch and independent review. “I was afraid you were being lied to,” she added.

Referring to the Horizon software, Ms. Greene wrote, “You said [the] system had already been reviewed multiple times. How could you not have known?”

Ms. Vennells texted back that the inquiry was the mechanism “to get to the bottom of this.”

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Moya Greene “accuses you of knowing,” Mr. Beer told Ms. Vennells. “Did you understand that to be an accusation that you knew about bugs, errors and defects in Horizon?”

“No,” Ms. Vennells replied. She said that in further messages not produced at the inquiry, Ms. Greene “steps back a little bit from the challenges that she’s putting here.” Ms. Greene “was possibly suggesting that there was some conspiracy,” she added. “I didn’t believe that was the case.”

Mr. Beer pressed her why on she failed to answer Ms. Greene’s comment that she must have known about the glitches.

“It’s a question I have asked myself as well. I have learned some things that I didn’t know, as a result of [the] inquiry,” she replied. “I wished I had known.”

Ms. Greene is scheduled to testify at the inquiry in July.

She is expected to face questions about her first two years as CEO of Royal Mail when the Post Office was a subsidiary. More than 100 sub-postmasters were prosecuted between 2010 and 2012.

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