‘I blocked her number’: Ex-head of IT says Paula Vennells ‘hoped to avoid’ Post Office inquiry

A former Post Office executive has said she was forced to block ex-boss Paula Vennells’ phone number after the ex-CEO called multiple times asking for help to avoid an independent inquiry into the Horizon IT scandal.

Lesley Sewell, previously the company’s head of IT, told the Post Office inquiry on Thursday that former CEO Ms Vennells had reached out to her four times between 2020 and 2021.

Ms Sewell said that she blocked Ms Vennells’ number due to discomfort with the contact.

In her witness statement to the probe, Ms Sewell said that one of Ms Vennells’ emails referenced the need to fill in memory gaps regarding Horizon and “Project Sparrow”, a committee addressing issues with forensic accountants who identified flaws in the accounting system.

“Paula contacted me on four occasions in total. I recall blocking her number after the last call as I did not feel comfortable with her contacting me,” Ms Sewell said.

“I had not spoken to Paula since I had left POL [Post Office Limited] in 2015.”

Lesley Sewell giving evidence to the Post Office inquiry. Pic: PA
Lesley Sewell giving evidence to the Post Office inquiry. Pic: PA

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According to Ms Sewell’s testimony, former chief executive Ms Vennells said that she had “been asked at short notice” to appear before a parliamentary select committee on “all things Horizon/Sparrow and need to plug some memory gaps”.

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Ms Sewell says Ms Vennells added: “My hope is this might help avoid an independent inquiry but to do so, I need to be well prepared.”

Ms Sewell, who struggled to contain her emotions and broke down in tears while giving her oath at the start of her inquiry evidence, was offered support and breaks as needed by chairman Sir Wyn Williams.

Sir Wyn told the former executive: “Ms Sewell, I appreciate this may be upsetting for you, Ms Price will ask you a number of questions in a proper and sensible manner, but if at any time you feel you need a break, just let me know, all right?”

Lesley Sewell taking the oath at the Post Office inquiry. Pic: PA
Lesley Sewell taking the oath at the Post Office inquiry. Pic: PA

The Post Office has faced significant scrutiny following the ITV drama Mr Bates Vs The Post Office which highlighted the Horizon IT scandal.

The faulty system led to the prosecution of more than 700 sub-postmasters between 1999 and 2015, with many still awaiting full compensation despite government announcements regarding payouts for those with quashed convictions.

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