Post Office Inquiry watch LIVE: Paula Vennells breaks down in tears twice at Horizon IT hearing

Former Post Office boss Paula Vennells broken down in tears twice mid-evidence as she made an emotional appearance at the Horizon IT inquiry.

She stopped mid-answer and reached for a tissue as she was grilled about why she had told MPs that the Post Office had been successful in every case against subpostmasters.

The 65-year-old ordained priest also became visibly upset as the inquiry looked into the Post Office's response to the suicide of subpostmaster Martin Griffiths in 2013.

As she gave evidence on Wednesday, Ms Vennells admitted she "made mistakes" but denied there was a conspiracy to cover up the scandal.

She apologised for a comment she made to MPs in June 2012, when she said subpostmasters had been "tempted to put their hands in the till" - adding that it was an "assumption" she made.

The former chief executive said there was no "motivation" to put the needs of the Post Office over the suffering of subpostmasters but added: "There will be many examples of where that is clearly the case because the Post Office got this very wrong."

Live updates below.

WATCH: Moment Paula Vennells breaks down in tears as she's accused of misleading MPs

11:39 , Lydia Chantler-Hicks

Ending coverage

18:25 , Tom Davidson

We’re ending our live coverage for today.

Here’s our write up from today’s evidence of Paula Vennells, with Alan Bates saying he has no sympathy for her.

Alan Bates has 'no sympathy' for Paula Vennells after tears

17:07 , Jacob Phillips

Campaigner Alan Bates has said he has "no sympathy" for Paula Vennells after her tears.

Speaking outside Aldwych House after Ms Vennells gave evidence, Mr Bates said: "The whole thing is upsetting for everybody, including for so many of the victims.

"I've got no sympathy really."

Asked if he thinks she is genuinely sorry, he added: "I wonder about these apologies, these are just words."

He adds that Vennells' evidence was "like figure skating on the head of a pin".

Mr Bates said: "It was a bit like figure skating on the head of a pin all day, isn't hindsight a wonderful thing?

"It's only the first day of three so I don't know where we'll get to but it was good to see her on the stand."

Inquiry ends for the day

16:57 , Jacob Phillips

The inquiry’s evidence has ended for the day. Sir Wyn Williams says that he is extremely grateful for the members of the public and court participants for their “restrained behaviour” during the course of the day.

16:55 , Jacob Phillips

Beer finishes day’s evidence session by showing Vennells a letter in 2016 where she was told a number of “super-users” in Fujitsu could access Horizon remotely.

The letter warns it was a "different positioning" over the issue of remote access than made in earlier statements.

Vennells replies noting the email is clear and follows up by asking what had been said about super-users before.

She is told they haven't previously addressed it and that this is an area that could lead to “adverse media commentary”.

Beer asks if she was aware of super-users before July 2016, Vennells says: “I don’t think so.”

Vennells says she intended to answer select committee 'open and honestly'

16:46 , Jacob Phillips

Paula Vennells insisted she approached the 2015 select committee meeting "with an intention to answer their questions as openly and honestly as I knew".

The Horizon IT Inquiry heard that Ms Vennells received an "addendum briefing" before the meeting which advised her on what she could say in the first instance, what she could say when pushed and what she could say if she was pushed further.

Ms Vennells said she did not ask for that strategy.

She told the probe: "I would respond to the questions as they were asked and I would respond to the select committee openly and honestly with what I knew and could recall at the time under the pressure of the select committee.

"But I would not have gone in, you can't do that, it's like sitting here today, you can't come into these sorts of very high pressure environments with a strategy as to how you are going to handle it."

Asked if she thought it was an appropriate strategy to adopt, Ms Vennells said: "No...I have just said that I would have approached...I did approach the select committee with an intention to answer their questions as openly and honestly as I knew."

Vennells accused of adopting 'odd' approach before speaking to MPs

16:30 , Jacob Phillips

Counsel to the inquiry Jason Beer KC accused Paula Vennells of adopting an "odd" approach before speaking to MPs.

In 2015, she told MPs on the the business select committee that she had seen no evidence of miscarriages of justice and that there were no faults in the Horizon system.

On Wednesday, the inquiry was told of an email Ms Vennells sent before the select committee hearing saying she needed to tell MPs "it is not possible" to access Horizon remotely. Counsel to the inquiry Jason Beer KC asked why she needed to say remote access was not possible.

Ms Vennells responded:"I phrased this point very specifically and I can remember why I did this.

"Alice Perkins, not related to this particularly, but I can remember Alice Perkins saying to me at some stage, 'Paula if you want to get the truth and a really clear answer from somebody, you should tell them what it is you want to say very clearly and then ask for the information that backs that up', that was why I phrased this that way."

Mr Beer said:"That's an odd way of going about things, isn't it? 'I want to know the answer to the question, here's the answer to the question, tell me I'm wrong'."

Ms Vennells added: "Well yes, I hoped they would do....I believed this was absolutely the case, I had an obligation going before the select committee to be able to share the information that I knew and be able to answer their questions correctly and this is what I was trying to ask for from the team. I was not in any way, if you're suggesting this, trying to tell them what the answer should be."

Vennells did not know 'wild west' documents existed

16:26 , Jacob Phillips

Jason Beer KC has been quizzing Paula Vennells about what information she had whether Fujitsu had used balancing transactions before 2010.

He says: "We've got the documentation which shows - one witness described it as the Wild West - the extent to which Fujitsu could inject, amend, transactions, pre-2010, completely, before 2004, unregulated, unaudited, and unauditable."

She replies: "I should have seen those documents. I didn't know they existed."

Beer adds: "So it wasn't that the documentation wasn't available, it is that it would be costly to find it?"

Vennells continued: "No no, it would be costly to recreate it.”

She explained the existing documentation at the time had not been updated, which means that finding the latest version would be difficult.

Beer clarifies that he is talking about documents from Fujitsu saying they had a team with rights that allowed them access to insert or amend transactions.

"That information wasn't shared. Deeply regrettably," Vennells says.

'I didn't believe that any of those things were folklore at all' says Vennells

15:43 , Jacob Phillips

Counsel to the inquiry Jason Beer KC asked Paula Vennells why a number of "false statements" or "folklore" about Horizon were circulating within the Post Office.

Mr Beer put to her that the Post Office falsely believed that every time it went to court it won, that there were no faults in Horizon and that there was no remote access for Fujitsu.

Ms Vennells responded: "At the time they were not considered to be false statements. The source of those statements, I can't recall clearly, but on something like this the only possible source of this statement would have been through the Post Office legal team.

"So the answer for all of them would be to look for where the expertise sat within the organisation as to the genesis of what we now know are false statements."

Mr Beer asked if it is a "serious issue" if "folklore develops" which has "no foundation in fact".

Ms Vennells said: "I agree."

Mr Beer also asked if it says something about the culture of the Post Office if "such folklore developed or was perpetuated and nobody checked the real facts?"

Ms Vennells replied: "That's a difficult question to answer because in hindsight it is completely valid. At the time, certainly where I was concerned, I believed that I was getting information from the people who were employed to give me the best advice because of their expertise. I didn't believe that any of those things were folklore at all."

Vennells 'saw the theme of Horizon coming up'

15:32 , Jacob Phillips

Paula Vennells accepted that she routinely received correspondence about issues subpostmasters were facing.

Asked if she saw a pattern in the correspondence, she said: "I saw the theme of Horizon coming up."

"Was anything done by you to join the dots between them?" counsel to the inquiry Jason Beer KC asked.

Ms Vennells replied: "The dots I believed were being joined through the investigation work in the Complaints Mediation Scheme and in every case I believed we had looked at it in some detail and I regret today that clearly neither of those exposed the issues that we came to find out about through the Horizon issues judgment."

Vennells 'regrets' that concerns by a sub-postmaster 'took too long to address'

15:09 , Lydia Chantler-Hicks

Ms Vennells has said she regrets that concerns raised by a former subpostmaster “took too long to address”.

In 2015, Tim McCormack wrote to Ms Vennells warning her that he had “clear and unquestionable evidence of an intermittent bug in Horizon that can and does cause thousands of pounds in losses to subpostmasters”.

Asked what she did after receiving this, Ms Vennells said: “I don’t recall.”

Amid gasps from those in the room, she went on: “Genuinely, I don’t recall.”

She later added: “In hindsight I think he was right and I regret that the matters he was raising took too long to address.”

Vennells denies Post Office tactically told sub-postmasters they were alone in experiencing issues

15:03 , Lydia Chantler-Hicks

Ms Vennells has been asked whether a standard line was deployed by the Post Office, telling sub-postmasters experiencing problems they were the only one this had happened to.

The inquiry has been shown an email that claims one sub-postmaster was told this.

Mr Beer asked Ms Vennells if it was a strategy to tell sub-postmasters “you are the only one who’s got this problem - pay up, it’s in your contract”.

“No,” she replied. “No, I never came across that at all.”

Vennells says it was 'completely unfair' of Post Office to maintain Horizon had no systemic issues

14:52 , Lydia Chantler-Hicks

Paula Vennells has said it was “completely unfair” of the Post Office to maintain that there were no systemic errors in Fujitsu’s IT software Horizon.

Counsel to the inquiry Jason Beer KC asked if a “frequent refrain” of the Post Office in 2014 was that there were no systemic errors in Horizon.

Ms Vennells replied: “It was, and it was wrong…it was completely unfair to use in the business.”

Vennells will never shed as many tears as I and other victims have, says Lee Castleton

14:33 , Lydia Chantler-Hicks

A wrongfully convicted former sub-postmaster has said Ms Vennells will “never” shed as many tears as he has.

Lee Castleton, from Bridlington, East Yorkshire, was found to have a £25,000 shortfall at his branch in 2004. He was made bankrupt after he lost his legal battle with the Post Office.

Speaking about Ms Vennells’ evidence, he said: “She’s got a huge opportunity to get what she sees as the truth out there.

Lee Castleton outside the inquiry on Wednesday (Yui Mok/PA Wire)
Lee Castleton outside the inquiry on Wednesday (Yui Mok/PA Wire)

“I think it’s a huge stage for her, I think the paperwork is fantastic. To see what was being written at the’s really, really important for us to see that.

“What she remembers really is kind of a background for me, the actual verbal evidence is not really that important.”

Regarding the several moments at which Ms Vennells has broken down in tears, he added: “She’ll never shed as many as I have, I’m afraid, or my family, or the rest of the victims or the wider group.

“Not that I have no empathy for that because I do.

“I’d imagine a lot of it’s nerves too and doing her best. I think she’s got a need or want to do the right thing.”

Inquiry resumes

14:19 , Lydia Chantler-Hicks

The hearing has just resumed, after breaking for lunch.

It has resumed where it left off, by looking at a series of complaints made by sub-postmasters and sub-postmistresses from 2012 onwards, about bugs and issues in the Horizon IT system.

Inquiry breaks for lunch

13:26 , Lydia Chantler-Hicks

The inquiry is now breaking for lunch. It is due to return at 2.15pm.

Vennells in 2013 described cases of wrongfully accused sub-postmasters as 'very disturbing'

13:25 , Lydia Chantler-Hicks

The inquiry has been shown Ms Vennells was in 2013 sent a report that detailed the cases of eight wrongfully convicted sub-postmasters.

In an email chain - which was leaked ahead of today’s hearing - Ms Vennells described the cases as “very disturbing”.

Asked to expand on this, Ms Vennells said: “Some of them referred to issues with the Horizon system, and in a number of cases they spoke about the impacts on them and their families...financially, the dreadful impacts on some people.

“It was very disturbing and upsetting reading. What I wanted to do having read these was to share them with colleagues, just so everybody knew the seriousness of what we were dealing with.”

“This was at the very beginning stage of the remediation scheme.”

Ms Vennells paused again to collect herself, after becoming tearful.

Inquiry hears of concerns sub-postmasters raised with Ms Vennells from 2012

13:15 , Lydia Chantler-Hicks

Mr Beer is now reading from emails sent to Ms Vennells by sub-postmasters from 2012 onwards, expressing frustrations about the Horizon IT system and highlighting ongoing issues with it.

One email was from a sub-postmaster named Pervez Nakvi.

Ms Vennells forwarded his complaints about the Horizon software on to colleagues, describing Mr Nakvi, who was also reportedly a magistrate, as a “respected” sub-postmaster.

“It is very frustrating to receive emails like this,” wrote Ms Vennells in the email chain, shown to the inquiry. “Pervez is right to raise it.

“It is my understanding that Horizon is reliable and we are within the tolerances. But if trusted individuals like Pervez are now not feeling that is the case, are we monitoring the right metrics?”

Vennells says she disagreed with former PO boss' comment about sub-postmasters having 'hands in the till'

13:09 , Lydia Chantler-Hicks

Ms Vennells has said she did not agree with a sentiment expressed by former Post Office managing director Alan Cook, when he sent an email she was copied into referring to “subbies with their hands in the till”.

“My instincts tell that, in a recession, subbies with their hands in the till choose to blame the technology when they are found to be short of cash,” Mr Cook had written in the email, from October 2009.

Counsel to the inquiry Jason Beer KC asked Ms Vennells: “Was that a sentiment that you agreed with?”

Ms Vennells responded: “No, I never used the word subbies, I thought it was completely the wrong word.”

Mr Beer then said: “What about the more important thing about them having their hands in the till?”

After a ripple of laughter from those watching proceedings in the hearing room, Ms Vennells replied: “I beg your pardon, I wasn’t avoiding answering that question – neither – either calling them subbies or having their hands in the till.”

Hearing resumes

12:52 , Lydia Chantler-Hicks

The hearing has now resumed after a short break.

Inquiry chair interrupts to say it is 'surprising' Ms Vennells did not know about private prosections

12:48 , Lydia Chantler-Hicks

We’ve just heard Ms Vennells claim she did not know until 2012 - five years after joining the Post Office - that, unusually, the firm privately prosecuted its staff.

Inquiry chair Sir Wyn Williams has interrupted questioning to point out the case of Seema Misra - a wrongly prosecuted sub-postmistress who was jailed while pregnant - which had “attracted a great deal of publicity” two years earlier, in 2010.“It does seem surprising that it didn’t filter through at that point, that it was actually the Post Office that was prosecuting, not the CPS,” said Sir Wyn.

Inquiry chair, Sir Wyn Williams, interjects to question Paula Vennells (Post Office Inquiry hearing)
Inquiry chair, Sir Wyn Williams, interjects to question Paula Vennells (Post Office Inquiry hearing)

“I agree,” said Ms Vennells, adding: “I haven’t seen anything in the documentation that would point to the fact that one would have known that.”

Sir Wyn replied: “I don’t think I need documentation to infer that this might be a point of discussion among senior people.”

“I apologise,” said Ms Vennells.

“I have no recollection of being involved in conversations about Mrs Misra’s case. There were not, as far as I know, discussions about the fact that it was Post Office that had investigated and brought the prosecution.

“The assumption is it was brought by external authorities.”

Ms Vennells claims she was unaware of Post Office private prosecutions for five years

12:39 , Lydia Chantler-Hicks

Ms Vennells has claimed she was unaware for some years that the Post Office was conducting criminal investigations into, and recovering money from, its own staff.

She said she became aware of this - an unusual practice for a private company - in 2012, once she had been with the firm for five years.

“It was in 2012 when I believe that we started to look in much more detail...I and others were made aware that this [the practice of making private prosecutions] was the case.”Asked if she was surprised to learn about this, she told the inquiry “Yes, I think a number of us were surprised.”

Inquiry takes a short break

12:29 , Lydia Chantler-Hicks

The inquiry has taken a short break, but will return in around 10 minutes at 12.40pm.

Vennells denies 'diminishing her blameworthiness'

12:16 , Lydia Chantler-Hicks

Ms Vennells has said she wrote her witness statement with “integrity, truth and honesty” after being grilled over whether she could only remember things that were “exculpatory” of her.

Jason Beer KC asked: “Would this be right, you have no problem remembering things that put responsibility or attribute blame to others?

“Why is it that you can remember things that are exculpatory of you that tend to diminish your blameworthiness?”

Ms Vennells replied: “No I don’t believe that’s the way I approached my statement at all.

“I approached it with the intention of integrity, truth and honesty.”

Vennells breaks down in tears again as she recalls sub-postmaster took his own life after being accused of stealing

12:12 , Lydia Chantler-Hicks

Paula Vennells broke down in tears as she discussed Martin Griffiths, who deliberately stepped in front of an oncoming bus on September 23 2013, after he had been deemed culpable for an armed robbery at his Hope Farm Post Office branch in Cheshire in May 2013.

He had also previously written to the Post Office in July 2013 about a £39,000 shortfall at his branch between February 2012 and May 2013. He was sacked from his branch in July of the same year.

On September 23, 2013, Mr Griffiths’ mother-in-law contacted campaigner and fellow scandal victim Alan Bates to tell him he had taken his own life.

“The Post office had driven him to suicide,” she said in her email, which has been shown to the inquiry.

The inquiry is now hearing of Ms Vennells’ response to Mr Griffiths’ death.

Ms Vennells broke down in tears again as she recalled speaking to Mr Griffiths’ father.

“Sorry is an inadequate word,” she told the hearing. “I am just so sorry that Mr Griffiths isn’t here today.”

Emails show Vennells suggested sub-postmaster who took own life had mental health issues

12:07 , Lydia Chantler-Hicks

The inquiry has been shown emails Ms Vennells sent after accused sub-postmaster Martin Griffiths took his own life.

In one email to lawyer Susan Crichton, sent while Mr Griffiths was critically ill in hospital following his attempt, Ms Vennells asked how he was doing before writing: “If it is an attempted suicide, as we sadly know, there are usually several contributory factors.”

In another email she said she understood Mr Griffiths had “mental health issues”.

In another email to her team on October 12, 2013, she wrote: “I possibly heard (but may be confusing with a previous case) that Martin had had some mental health issues?”

Mr Beer suggested Ms Vennells was here asking her team to “find out counter any narrative that the Post Office was to blame” for Mr Griffiths’ death, as his family believed.

“No, Mr Beer,” she responded. “What I was trying to do quite simply was trying to get the wider picture.”

Vennells explains where she got false information she presented to MPs

11:38 , Lydia Chantler-Hicks

Ms Vennells has explained where she got the erroneous information she delivered to MPs at a meeting in June 2012.

We earlier heard she incorrectly said at the meeting that no litigation had taken place in which Horizon had been found at fault. This was not the case. By the time the meeting happened, Mr Beer pointed out, three sub-postmistresses had been cleared by juries of stealing cash after blaming Horizon IT issues.

Ms Vennells said she got this incorrect information from a board meeting that happened in January 2012.

In the meeting notes, a ‘significant litigation report’ by lawyer Susan Crichton said: “The business has also won every criminal prosecution in which it has used evidence based on the Horizon system’s integrity.”

“Clearly that was completely inaccurate in many different ways,” Ms Vennells told the hearing just now.

But she said that at the time, “I didn’t believe it was false information...if you’re given information by the highest lawyer in the organisation, you take it completely as the truth.”

Hearing resumes as ceiling leak appears to have been fixes

11:26 , Lydia Chantler-Hicks

The hearing has now resumed after a quick break. Sir Wyn Williams says he is now “drip free”.

Former subpostmistress responds in anger to Vennells' testimony and tears

11:22 , Lydia Chantler-Hicks

Sally Stringer, a former Gloucestershire sub-postmistress who was a victim of the Horizon scandal, has responded with anger to Ms Vennells’ testimony so far.

“She has run a dysfunctional company, like it or lump it, for years, Ms Stringer told Sky News just now, as she watched the hearing live on TV.

“I just hoped today would be a day where she would tell the truth. And she’s not.”

Responding to the moment Ms Vennells became emotional while being accused of misleading MPs, Ms Stringer said: “The tears - oh dear, what a shame. She can put that on as much as she likes.

“I want some decent statements out of her.”

Vennells breaks down in tears as counsel accuses her of misleading MPs

11:17 , Lydia Chantler-Hicks

The inquiry has now been shown minutes from a meeting between Vennells, Post Office personnel, and MPs, held on June 18, 2012.

Ms Vennells told MPs: “It appears that some subpostmasters have been borrowing money from the Post Office account/till in the same way they might do in a retail business”.

She said there “had not been a case investigated where the Horizon system had been found to be at fault”.

Paula Vennells breaks down in tears (Post Office Horizon IT Inquiry)
Paula Vennells breaks down in tears (Post Office Horizon IT Inquiry)

But Mr Beer points out that was not true.

He highlighted three specific cases which subpostmistresses accused of stealing Post Office funds had, by the time of that meeting, been acquitted by juries after blaming Horizon for the issue.

Mr Beer asked: “Why were you telling these parliamentarians every prosecution had found in favour of the Post Office?”

Breaking down in tears, Ms Vennells responded: “I fully accept now that the Post Office knew that.

“Personally, I didn’t know that, and I am incredibly sorry that happen to those people and to so many others.”

Hearing breaks as leak in ceiling drips on inquiry chair

11:10 , Lydia Chantler-Hicks

Sir Wyn Williams, presiding over hearing, has cut in to say he is slowly “being attacked by drips”, referring to an apparent leak in the ceiling.

The inquiry is taking a short break until 11.15am while it’s looked at.

Vennells refutes suggestion staff were worried about sharing issues with her

10:57 , Lydia Chantler-Hicks

Lead counsel to the inquiry Jason Beer KC has asked Ms Vennells if perhaps Post Office staff kept bad news from her, and there was a “we best not tell the boss” ethos at play.

“No, absolutely not,” Ms Vennells responded.

“On the contrary I put in place a campaign at one place called ‘bad news is good news’, to encourage people to share difficult information.

“It’s very important when you’re running an organisation...that that sort of information is shared with you.”

Scandal is 'result of something much broader than an IT system', says Vennells

10:45 , Lydia Chantler-Hicks

Jason Beer KC is probing Ms Vennells on a line from the apology at the end of her 775-page witness statement, in which she says victims were “wrongly prosecuted as a result of the Horizon system”.

Asked if, as this line suggests, Ms Vennells believes the issues at the Post Office were with the Horizon system rather than its staff, she responded: “No, not at all...

“The tragedy we’re dealing with today is the result of something much, much broader than an IT system. Yes, that underpinned some of it, but the issues are much, much broader.

“This is far more complicated that just the Horizon system.

Vennells pressed on how she could not have known what was going on

10:38 , Lydia Chantler-Hicks

Jason Beer KC has repeatedly pressed Ms Vennells on the question posed by Ms Greene - how could she not have known about what was going on at the Post Office?

Ms Vennells initially appeared evasive, describing the situation as “so complex”, and saying: “It’s a question I have asked myself as well...I wished I had known.”

Pressed further by Mr Beer, she said the issue goes back to her earlier point about information that was and was not made available to management.

She added there were also possible issues with “Fujitsu not sharing as much as it could or should have done”.

She said “people knowing the [Horizon] system itself lacked integrity” could also have been behind the issues.

She added: “I had no idea that it [the HorizonIT software] had been designed for a totally different purpose.”

Vennells describes scandal as 'terrible miscarriage of justice'

10:33 , Lydia Chantler-Hicks

The final page of Ms Vennells’ 775-page witness statement also ends on an apology.

The page, which has been shown to the hearing, reads: “I finish this statement by repeating my apologies to the subpostmasters and their families and to all who have suffered so much from this terrible miscarriage of justice.

“Their lives were torn apart by being wrongly accused and wrongly prosecuted as a result of the Horizon system.

“I am truly sorry and will [be] so for the rest of my life.”

The final page of Ms Vennells’ 775-page witness statement (Horizon IT Inquiry)
The final page of Ms Vennells’ 775-page witness statement (Horizon IT Inquiry)

'I think you knew', former Royal Mail CEO tells Vennells in texts shown to inquiry

10:29 , Lydia Chantler-Hicks

The inquiry has been shown a series of text messages between Paula Vennells and former Royal Mail CEO Moya Greene, in which the latter accuses Ms Vennells of knowing about the scandal.

“I think you knew,” said Ms Greene, a Canadian businesswoman who headed the Royal Mail until 2018, in the messages.

“No Moya, that isn’t the case,” responded Ms Vennells.

Ms Greene asks her: “How could you not have known?”

Ms Vennells appears not to answer that question, in the messages.

'I have no sense there was any conspiracy' says Vennells

10:23 , Lydia Chantler-Hicks

Ms Vennells has said she does not believe there was a conspiracy at the Post Office to keep information from her, but rather “mistakes” were made.

She said she has been “disappointed” - particularly during the course of the inquiry so far - to learn that “people knew more than perhaps either they remembered at the time or I knew of at the time”.

“I have no sense that there was any conspiracy at all,” she said.

“My deep sorrow in this is that I think individuals, myself included, made mistakes - didn’t see things, didn’t hear things.

“I may be wrong...But conspiracy feels too far-fetched.”

Vennells suggests there were problems with the way issues were reported to her as CEO

10:22 , Lydia Chantler-Hicks

Asked why so much information about the emerging scandal apparently didn’t reach her while she was CEO, Ms Vennells said there were fundamental issues with the way problems were reported.

She said that when it came to bugs and defects in the Horizon system, only issues of a certain magnitude would cross the desks of her and the board.

She suggested issues affecting a large number of Post Offices would reach them, but not individual cases.

“One of the biggest realising how much went on at an individual postmaster level,” she said.

“When a bug affected large numbers of Post Offices or there was an outage that affected a large number...they were raised

“But if a single postmaster made a call X number of times to a service centre, it wouldn’t have been picked up.”

She suggested it is difficult to balance being at the helm of a “large and complex” organisation like the Post Office, while being aware of “individual” issues.

'I was too trusting' says Vennells

10:08 , Lydia Chantler-Hicks

Former Post Office CEO Ms Vennells has told the inquiry she was “too trusting”.

Lead counsel to the inquiry Jason Beer KC said: “Do you think you are the unluckiest CEO in the United Kingdom?”

Ms Vennells replied: “As the inquiry has heard, there was information I wasn’t given and others didn’t receive as well.

“One of my reflections of all of this – I was too trusting.

“I did probe and I did ask questions and I’m disappointed where information wasn’t shared and it has been a very important time for me… to plug some of those gaps.”

Hearing briefly suspended by fire alarm test

10:06 , Lydia Chantler-Hicks

The hearing has been briefly suspended for a scheduled fire alarm test, but has now resumed.

Vennells opens with apology to subpostmasters and their families

10:01 , Lydia Chantler-Hicks

Ms Vennells has asked if she could make a short statement to the hearing, before cross-examination begins.

She said: “I would just like to sorry I am for all that subpostmasters and their families and others have suffered as a result of all of the matters that the enquiry has been looking at for so long.

She said she has seen all the witness impact statements and “was very affected by them”.

“I remember looking at one subpostmaster...who said he would like somebody to go and stand outside his Post Office with them so people could know what he had been through.

“I would do that. I am truly sorry.”

To Alan Bates and campaigners who have fought for justice, she added: “I and those I worked with made their work so much harder and I am truly sorry for that.”

Vennells has provided around 800 pages of witness statements

09:55 , Lydia Chantler-Hicks

The hearing has just heard that Ms Vennells has submitted two written witness statements.

One of these is a hefty document at 775 pages long. The second is 23 pages long.

Paula Vennells is sworn in

09:52 , Lydia Chantler-Hicks

Ms Vennells is now being sworn in, as the inquiry gets underway.

You can watch live by playing the video at the top of this article.

‘For god’s sake, speak truth’: ex-subpostmasters call for honesty from Vennells

09:49 , Lydia Chantler-Hicks

Former subpostmasters have called for honesty from Ms Vennells ahead of her oral evidence the inquiry, imploring her: “For god’s sake, speak truth.”

Seema Misra and Lee Castleton are both victims of the Horizon scandal.

Ms Misra, who ran a Post Office in West Byfleet, Surrey, was jailed in 2010 after being accused of stealing £74,000. She was pregnant at the time.

Former sub-postmistress Seema Misra outside the Post Office inquiry at Aldwych House (Jordan Pettitt/PA Wire)
Former sub-postmistress Seema Misra outside the Post Office inquiry at Aldwych House (Jordan Pettitt/PA Wire)

Asked what she would say to Ms Vennells, Ms Misra said outside Aldwych House on Wednesday: “Please, for god’s sake, speak truth.

“That’s what we all deserve, we’ve been fighting such a long time…we want to know exactly what happened.”

Lee Castleton, from Bridlington, East Yorkshire, was found to have a £25,000 shortfall at his branch in 2004. He was made bankrupt after he lost his legal battle with the Post Office.

Former Post Office worker Lee Castleton outside the inquiry on Wednesday (Yui Mok/PA Wire)
Former Post Office worker Lee Castleton outside the inquiry on Wednesday (Yui Mok/PA Wire)

He said he is hoping to hear “the truth”, adding: “I’m really looking forward to listen to what [Ms Vennells] has to say.

“It’s a good platform for her to finally speak...I think it’s important that she is listened to and heard and then we can all judge that,” he said.

Read more here.

The Post Office scandal – a timeline of key events

09:35 , Lydia Chantler-Hicks

As we wait for the hearing to begin, you can view a summarised timeline of the Post Office scandal here.

Hearing to begin shortly

09:30 , Lydia Chantler-Hicks

Today’s hearing is due to begin at 9.45am, with Ms Vennells giving evidence to the inquiry for the first time.

We’ll be bringing you all the key updates throughout the day. You can also watch the hearing live at the top of this page.

Newly surfaced email suggests Vennells knew about 'disturbing' cases a year before prosecutions were halted

09:21 , Lydia Chantler-Hicks

Ms Vennells is due to be questioned after a day after an email surfaced in which she appeared to describe potential wrongful convictions of subpostmasters as “very disturbing” more than a year before the company halted prosecutions.

Hundreds of subpostmasters were prosecuted by the Post Office between 1999 and 2015 after accounting software Horizon, owned by Japanese company Fujitsu, made it appear as though money was missing at their branches.

The email in question was reportedly sent by Ms Vennells in October 2013.

ITV News reported the email, as well as a recording of a phone conversation involving the then-CEO, confirmed she was sent case files of eight subpostmasters.

Ms Vennells, an ordained priest, was Post Office boss from 2012 to 2019.

Paula Vennells mobbed by press as she arrives at inquiry

09:13 , Lydia Chantler-Hicks

Former Post Office CEO Paula Vennells has been mobbed by photographers and reporters this morning, as she arrived in Aldwych, central London, to give evidence before the Horizon IT scandal inquiry.

The disgraced ex-chief executive is due to begin her three days to the inquiry, amid claims she covered-up the Post Office’s knowledge of bugs in the faulty accounting software.

 (AFP via Getty Images)
(AFP via Getty Images)

The 65-year-old was surrounded by press as she exited a car a short distance from the venue, and was eventually escorted by police.