RUTH SUNDERLAND: Post Office’s Paula Vennells has given back the CBE she should never have received
As CEO of the Post Office, Paula Vennells presided over the Horizon scandal
Why did it take so long? It is a mystery why Paula Vennells, the former director of the Post Office, did not return her CBE sooner.
I have been calling on her for years to give up the undeserved honor, but she has clung to it like a sea slug.
In fact, it took an intervention from Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who said he would strongly support the Honors Forfeiture Committee if it considered taking it away from her, to separate Paula from her gong.
Perhaps she felt that voluntarily returning the CBE would be seen as an admission of guilt.
But there was no point in holding on to it and she should have recognized this much earlier.
The CBE and other awards are signs of public respect and appreciation. Vennells forfeited both long ago.
To hold on to this risked bringing the entire system into disrepute and seemed like a slap in the face to the hundreds of innocent postal workers whose good names were being dragged into the gutter.
Maybe she thought she could get through the scandal.
Sir Philip Green held on to his knighthood despite loud calls for its removal. However, this was a very different scenario and a fair outcome as he had made a very large payment to BHS pensioners.
Fred Goodwin is the only prominent CEO in recent history to have lost a major honor, in his case a knighthood.
James Crosby, the former boss of HBOS, gave up his knighthood of his own volition and never faced the same level of vilification as his fellow Depression-era banker Goodwin.
The Horizon scandal, which saw more than 700 subpostmasters prosecuted between 1999 and 2015, was retold this week in the hit ITV drama Mr Bates vs The Post Office
Back to Vennells, and it seems absurd that she got the prize at all. After all, this was in 2019, when there was plenty of reason to be worried about Horizon.
Unlike the postmasters who lost their reputation, livelihood, good name and more, she is cushioned by wealth
After leaving the Post Office, she appeared to be in no hurry to step down from her other lucrative roles, such as her directorships at retailers Dunelm and Morrisons.
Losing the CBE will undoubtedly be painful, but it is a relatively light punishment.
Unlike the postmasters who lost their reputation, livelihood, good name and more, she is cushioned by wealth, millions of which have been made at the post office.
I am not a Christian like Paula Vennells, but I do believe that everyone is capable of salvation.
The latest New Years Honors included a knighthood for Gerald Ronson. He was jailed in 1990 for his role in the Guinness affair, but worked hard for decades to regain his status and became one of the country’s leading philanthropists.
Vennells giving up her CBE is a symbolic gesture. An important symbol, but a sign nonetheless. At best, it’s just a small start to any kind of real restitution.