Ordained former Post Office boss steps back from priestly duties after Horizon scandal

Rev Paula Vennells(Photo: BBC)

The former chief executive of the Post Office, who is also an ordained minister in the Church of England, has stepped back from priestly duties after 39 subpostmasters were cleared of fraud in a historic ruling on Friday. 

The Rev Paula Vennells was ordained in the Church of England in 2006 and is an associate minister in Bromham, Oakley and Stagsden, Bedfordshire.

She has also stood down from her roles with Morrisons and Dunelm after the Court of Appeal's ruling that saw the wrongly convicted subpostmasters cleared of cleared of theft, fraud and false accounting.

In what has been described as one of the biggest miscarriages of justice in British legal history, some 700 subpostmasters were prosecuted by the Post Office between 2000 and 2014, but it later emerged that the accounting shortfalls were down to its faulty Horizon IT system.

There are now calls for Vennells, who headed the Post Office from 2012 to 2019, to be investigated by the police and stripped of her CBE for services to the Post Office amid claims of a cover-up. 

In a statement issued on Sunday, she said she was "truly sorry" for the suffering of the subpostmasters.

Cleared subpostmasters celebrating their victory outside the Court of Appeal.(Photo: Justice for Subpostmasters Alliance)

"It is obvious that my involvement with the Post Office has become a distraction from the good work undertaken in the Diocese of St Albans and in the parishes I serve," she said.

"I have therefore stepped back with immediate effect from regular parish ministry, and intend to focus fully on working with the ongoing Government Inquiry to ensure the affected sub-postmasters and wider public get the answers they deserve."

The Bishop of St Albans, the Rt Rev Alan Smith, has welcomed her decision. 

"As the son of a former subpostmaster I express my distress at the miscarriage of justice that so many sub-postmasters have suffered.

"They and their families are in my thoughts and prayers. I am glad that these and earlier appeals have overturned convictions that have been found to be unjust.

"I am aware that there are still legal processes and inquiries to take place during which it is right that Ms Vennells stands back from public ministry."