Former Post Office IT boss blocked Paula Vennells after she sought help to stop inquiry

Lesley Sewell
Lesley Sewell worked at the Post Office as Chief Information Officer until 2015 - Tayfun Salci/ZUMA Press Wire/Shutterstock

A former Post Office IT boss blocked Paula Vennells’ number after she sought help to avoid an independent inquiry.

Lesley Sewell detailed how ex-chief executive Ms Vennells tried to contact her four times between 2020 and 2021 – five years after Ms Sewell had left the Post Office.

In her witness statement to the Post Office Horizon IT inquiry, Ms Sewell wrote of how she blocked Ms Vennells’ number after a final call because she “did not feel comfortable with her contacting me”.

Ms Vennells resigned from her role as chief executive and left the Post Office in April 2019.

Ms Sewell, the Chief Information Officer, worked at the company until 2015.

More than 900 sub-postmasters were wrongfully prosecuted as a result of the Horizon scandal, after shortfalls were incorrectly recorded on their branch accounts owing to the faulty computer system.

Ms Sewell’s statement read: “To the best of my knowledge and research, Paula Vennells contacted me four times in 2020 and 2021 via either email, telephone call or text message.”

The IT executive said she had not spoken to Ms Vennells since leaving the Post Office in November 2015, when the ex-chief executive emailed her from a personal account.

Her witness statement continued: “In that email, she asked if I could spare her some time for a call.”

Ms Sewell said she had been asked at short notice to appear before a BETS Select Committee “on all things Horizon/Sparrow and need to plug some memory gaps”.

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

The select committee, which was scheduled to be held on March 26 2020, would go on to be postponed due to Covid-19.

Ms Sewell said that on another occasion, Ms Vennells rang her mobile in December 2020 but said she could not recall what they discussed and did not make notes.

Lesley Sewell gives evidence at the inquiry on Thursday
Lesley Sewell gives evidence at the inquiry on Thursday - Post Office Horizon IT Inquiry

The following year, Ms Vennells texted her in April 2021 to request a call.

Her witness statement said that they “spoke for longer this time” and that from her notes she could see there was reference to the Project Zebra Deloitte report – a document that the inquiry has seen before and reported that remote access to Post Office branches was possible.

She also referenced part of her notes that read “PV got jumpy” but said she did not know what this meant.

Ms Sewell blocked Ms Venells after a fourth and final communication, however it is unclear whether this was the April 2021 incident or at a later date.

Ms Sewell was visibly tearful when she was sworn in to give evidence on Thursday morning, ahead of being questioned by counsel to the inquiry Emma Price.

She joined the Post Office in 2010 and held a number of roles before resigning in 2015.

Addressing her, Sir Wyn Williams, the inquiry chairman, said: “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?”

Ms Vennells is set to give evidence to the inquiry next week.