Keir Starmer has refuted any knowledge of Crown Prosecution Service prosecutions involving post office operators entangled in the Horizon IT scandal during his time as the agency’s head.
The leader of the Labour party made remarks as more and more people are urging former Post Office CEO Paula Vennells to return £3 million in bonuses she received during her tenure.
During his time as director of public prosecutions from 2008 to 2013, Starmer was asked about his knowledge regarding up to 38 post office operator prosecutions started by the CPS.
He said he was unaware of any of them and only knew about a few within a 20-year period.
I am unsure – I believe the CPS is assisting with investigations – how many of those may or may not have included Horizon.
Although the Horizon IT system led to the prosecution of numerous post office operators, official reviews have revealed that only 10 cases pursued by the CPS resulted in convictions. Three of these convictions occurred during Starmer’s time as DPP.
According to a Labour representative, they did not visit his workstation.
Additionally, there is increasing pressure on Vennells, who is 64 years old, following her decision to return the CBE she received during her time as head of the Post Office. Rishi Sunak’s spokesperson has indicated disapproval of individuals who refuse to give up their bonuses.
He stated that it would be unethical for businesses or individuals to gain from this injustice.
Kevin Hollinrake, who is responsible for postal services, admitted in a government meeting that Vennells’ role as a Cabinet Office director from 2019 to 2020 may have been perceived as a “mistake” by many.
His comments followed a question from Liberal Democrat Daisy Cooper, who said: “Paula Vennells has quite rightly handed back her CBE, but many subpostmasters are asking why she was given it in the first place, and also why she was given a role as director of the Cabinet Office?”
Hollinrake replied, “While it was before my time in government, her points are thought-provoking. I am unsure of the answer to her question. Looking back, many people would consider it a mistake, but I am willing to address it.”
Following Hollinrake’s remarks, the Liberal Democrats urged Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden to take responsibility for not dismissing Vennells. Dowden was serving as Cabinet Office minister in 2019 when the High Court ruled in favor of 555 post office operators in a group lawsuit against the Post Office.
The court deemed that Horizon had multiple “defects and flaws” and there was a significant possibility that discrepancies in post office branch records were due to the system.
A former Conservative minister also stated that during his time in government, Vennells declined to meet with him unless her lawyer was present.
George Freeman, a previous minister of business, informed members of Parliament: “Although I never held the position of Post Office minister, I recall being asked to fill in for an absent minister while serving in the department. I refused to simply read a prepared speech and instead requested a full day of briefings from officials. When I requested to meet with Paula Vennells, I was informed that she would only agree to meet with me if her lawyer was present.”