'Paula Vennells should be dragged away in handcuffs like I was - her tears are fake'

Disgraced Post Office boss Paula Vennells is giving evidence at the inquiry into the Horizon scandal in a three-day grilling.

The ex CEO broke down in tears on Wednesday after acknowledging evidence she gave to MPs and colleagues at the Parliamentary Select Committee about prosecutions of sub-postmasters wasn't true. Vennells also said she wasn't aware for several years that the Post Office was conducting its own prosecutions.

Victims of the scandal urged Vennells to "come clean" about any personal wrongdoing in the lead-up to her evidence.

The Daily Mirror spoke to subpostersmasters and mistresses - those affected and impacted by her tenure, on how they felt as they watched her finally break her silence.

'paula vennells should be dragged away in handcuffs like i was - her tears are fake'

Seema says Venells' tears made her furious

Campaigner and former subpostmistress Seema Misra, 48, has been fighting for justice alongside Alan Bates.

Seema became a sub-postmistress in West Byfleet in Surrey in June 2005 and was suspended in January 2008 after an audit found a discrepancy of £74,000 in her accounts. She endured a two-year-long investigation that included having her house searched. She was eight weeks pregnant with her second child when she was handed a 15-month sentence in 2010 for six counts of false accounting and one of theft. The 48-year-old mother-of-two even had to give birth wearing a tag.

Seema travelled to the inquiry yesterday to look Vennells in the eye. But her apology and tears while giving evidence did little to repair the damage.

'paula vennells should be dragged away in handcuffs like i was - her tears are fake'

Seema Basra at Post Office hearing

She says: "I wanted Vennells to be dragged away in handcuffs like I was. She should be in handcuffs. Then she will have only an inkling of what I and so many have been through. We will be affected for the rest of our lives - she and the others should also have the same sentence. They are the real criminals - She is the real criminal."

Vennells was tearful at times, Seema added, "I wish I could cry. I don't have any more tears left. I'm still waiting for the full and financial redress. But justice would be to see Vennells and Post Office bosses behind bars.

'paula vennells should be dragged away in handcuffs like i was - her tears are fake'

Paula Vennells broke down in tears yesterday

"If I hadn't been pregnant, I definitely would have killed myself," she said of her 2010 conviction. "It was the worst thing. It was so shameful."

Former postmaster Harjinder Butoy, 48, from Chesterfield, Derby, was falsely convicted of stealing £208,000 in 2007 and jailed for 18 months. He spent 15 years clearing his name - and was struck by Ms Vennells' evidence.

"She's had five months of training from her lawyers, and it shows," he says of her first appearance, having travelled to see her at London's Aldwych House: "[But] Towards the end of the first day's testimony you could see she was just falling apart - that's just on her first day.

'paula vennells should be dragged away in handcuffs like i was - her tears are fake'

Jess Kaur and Perm Singh for Paula Vennells' hearing for the Post Office Inquiry

"She has no clue what I've been through for the last 18 years. The time I spent jailed. It took 15 years just to clear my name. I didn't care about the money, they took my good name. In our Asian culture where reputation is so important - we were totally ostracised. When we went to the local temple in Derby, people would be pointing the finger and whispering."

He echoed calls from other victims for criminal ramifications. Having lost his home, he says: "I still can't get my head around all the lies. Angela van den Bogerd was the same. I want to see them both behind bars."

Former postmistress Jess Kaur suffered a mental breakdown after being wrongly accused of stealing £11,000 from her West Midlands branch. Charges were dropped in 2009, but not before she attempted suicide and was sectioned in hospital.

'paula vennells should be dragged away in handcuffs like i was - her tears are fake'

Former postmaster Christopher Head at Paula Vennells hearing

Her story was the inspiration for Saman Kaur in The ITV drama. At the inquiry, she was feeling the emotion of seeing Vennells. "We were not sure whether to come today - it is still so emotional. Sitting in the inquiry today brought all the memories back," says Jess. "But we had to see Paula and what she would say - the woman who oversaw our suffering.

"Everyone who has appeared has said the same - 'I don't remember', 'I don't recall' and she kept to that line. To sit and see her offer her apology? It changes nothing for us. We only want the truth."

'paula vennells should be dragged away in handcuffs like i was - her tears are fake'

Screen grab taken from the Post Office Horizon IT Inquiry of former Post Office boss Paula Vennells, as she gives evidence to the inquiry at Aldwych House, central London, as part of phases five and six of the probe, which is looking at governance, redress and how the Post Office and others responded to the scandal. Picture date: Wednesday May 22, 2024. PA Photo. See PA story INQUIRY Horizon. Photo credit should read: Post Office Horizon IT Inquiry/PA Wire NOTE TO EDITORS: This handout photo may only be used for editorial reporting purposes for the contemporaneous illustration of events, things or the people in the image or facts mentioned in the caption. Reuse of the picture may require further permission from the copyright holder.

Jo Hamilton, a former sub-postmaster from South Warnborough, was accused of stealing £36,000 and only had her 2008 conviction for false accounting quashed in 2021. She says of Vennells: "Her tears were not genuine. She says she didn't know, that people didn't tell her stuff, but the story has been in the public eye since 2009. How could she have not known?"

'paula vennells should be dragged away in handcuffs like i was - her tears are fake'

Chirag Sidhpura 40 outside Aldwych House for the Post Office Inquiry for Paula Vennell's hearing

Christopher Head was once the youngest postmaster in the UK, after taking over a Post Office in West Bolden, near Sunderland. However a decade later he was facing accusations over £88,000 shortfall, and while criminal case was dropped after six months, he was pursued for the money through civil courts for five years - costing him his house and everything he had.

He didn't accept Vennells' display of remorse. "It was all a performance," he says. "She even said herself at the end you have to prepare for a high pressure event like this. Her recollection of events was completely contradicted by what the documentation shows. She wants to rewrite history - but she can't."

Meanwhile Chirag Sidhpur, 65, handed over more than £57,000 of his own money to avoid prosecution, losing his business and home in process. He saw Vennells's first day giving evidence and says: "Watching her boss is like watching a mafia boss. She presided over the people that came for me."

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