• Tuesday, May 28, 2024

UK News

Post Office executives accused of using misleading language in Horizon scandal

Paula Vennells

By: Pramod Thomas

POST OFFICE former chief executive Paula Vennells and top executives have been accused of using misleading language to describe flaws in the company’s Horizon IT system, with emails revealing efforts to find less critical terms like “anomalies” instead of “bugs.”

The inquiry, which aims to understand why the Post Office wrongly prosecuted operators for over a decade due to IT issues, has heard testimonies suggesting deliberate language manipulation to downplay the severity of the system’s failures.

According to reports, the inquiry disclosed that, upon guidance from Paula’s husband John, the Post Office ceased using the term “bugs” and adopted “anomalies and exceptions” instead, a change perceived by senior executives as “less emotive”.

Susan Crichton, a former senior lawyer at the Post Office, testified that an independent investigation had identified bugs in Horizon by July 2013.

Vennells herself sought advice from her husband, described as “engineer/computer literate,” to find non-emotive words for computer issues.

The inquiry heard that the language shift was apparent in subsequent communications, with problems referred to as “branch exceptions” instead of “bugs.”

Julian Blake, counsel to the inquiry, highlighted the Orwellian nature of this language alteration, drawing parallels to George Orwell’s novel 1984.

The move, described as “absolutely Orwellian,” aimed to obscure the gravity of the situation. Moreover, there were attempts to exclude cases like Seema Misra’s from investigation, raising concerns about transparency and accountability.

Misra, a prominent figure affected by the Post Office scandal, received a 15-month prison sentence for theft. She was locked up on her son’s 10th birthday while eight weeks pregnant, leading to her placement on suicide watch following a courtroom collapse. Ultimately, her conviction was overturned by the court of appeal in 2021.

During her testimony, Crichton expressed regret and apologised to the affected operators and their families. However, the inquiry continues to delve into the depth of the scandal, shedding light on the systemic issues within the Post Office’s handling of the Horizon system.

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