An Open Letter to Paula Vennells
Dear Ms Vennells
As is often reported in the media you are a devout and faithful Christian. In a few days you will be celebrating the birth of the Son of your God. A few months later, at Easter, you will also celebrate his death; executed on the gallows for his beliefs.
The death penalty is the ultimate sanction and I am sure the Christian community condemns the practice not only as inhumane but also because of the possibility that the original conviction could prove to be unsound as new evidence comes to light. If sin could be measured on a scale of 1 to 10 I am sure the execution of an innocent person would be a 10.
Unsound convictions are part and parcel of the work of our Judiciary. We allow for the possibilities of mistakes and new evidence coming to light with our Appeal system. Even Post Office Ltd acknowledge this possibility and state that they have a duty to release new evidence to the defence even after a successful conviction.
In Post Office’s rebuttal of the Second Sight Report you stated:
Post Office as a prosecutor has a continuing duty to disclose immediately any information that subsequently comes to light which might undermine its prosecution case or support the case of the defendant.
It is the duty of the defence lawyers to identify to the Court where there is insufficient evidence to sustain a charge, or to seek further information from the Post Office which might assist the defendant’s case. If the Court agrees, then the Judge must dismiss that charge. Thus a charge upon which there is no evidence will inevitably fail.
Now I will admit that you, as the CEO, have to rely on the information you are provided with by your employees. You cannot be expected to investigate personally every issue that is put before you BUT and this is most important, as CEO you accept the responsibility for the consequences of their actions and iinactions as the case may be. As CEO you stand by the statements you make to the Media and your company’s owners, the Government.
However it is not only your employees who provide you with information. External sources do to and I am one of them. I have provided you with details for instance of where to look for and read the transcript of the trial of Seema Misra. She was the subpostmistress at West Byfleet Post Office who your team had convicted of theft. In fairness you could not have known that this transcript would enter into the public domain but the fact is that it has, and I have urged you to read it in the past. You must read this transcript and compare it to not only what you have been told about how your team obtained this conviction but also compare it to the statements that POL have made about this whole sorry mess and the behaviour you must and should have expected from your employees who have now very visibly and publicly let you down.
You don’t have to read very far into the transcript before it becomes obvious that your team has been responsible for securing a conviction against Ms Misra by duplicitous means. You state yourself above that it is the defence lawyers duty to seek further information from the Post Office which might assist the defendant’s case. Well the defence asked right at the beginning for more details of errors in Horizon and your team argued against the defence team having access to them. Your prosecution team argued that any errors in Horizon would be noticeable by the SPMR so there was no need for further disclosure.
3 years after the trial of Seema Misra, Second Sight reported on an error that had occurred in Horizon. This error first occurred in 2011 and was not noticed by any of the branches affected. The consequences of this error were that branches had deducted from their accounts an amount of money which POL were not entitled to. Now tell me was this theft or just a silly mistake? During the course of the year (2011) you and your auditors signed off your accounts and proudly reported to the public and the Government a decrease in the company’s losses. Was this False Accounting or a simple mistake?
In 2012 the same error re-occurred and a subpostmaster at last noticed it. When POL checked they found that 14 branches had been affected. 13 of them didn’t notice it. Some of these branches actually owed money to POL. Were these branches guilty of Theft Paula or was it just a stupid mistake? For over a year they had wrongly signed off on their accounts. Were they guilty of false accounting or just too stupid to notice?
Eventually POL wrote off the money that some of these branches owed POL and refunded the ones that POL owed money to. You actually paid cash to these branches when the error was generated by the computer system and as you will know no computer knows how to steal physical cash. Did Seema Misra actually steal all that money in cash? The amounts concerned in the error were not very large by all accounts in comparison with the amount Seema was charged with stealing. Do you think that should make a difference? Well if you think it should then I suggest you read the transcript in full and see what the prosecution had to say about that particular point.
It gets worse – a whole lot worse – because several of these branches that did not notice this error – the error that the prosecution in the Misra Trial said would be so obvious to the Seema that it was totally impossible for it to happen – were CROWN offices Paula – the offices that your company runs – the offices that have produced most of your management staff. POL would have actually recovered from these branches an amount or paid to the accounts of these branches an amount as a result of a computer error that sometimes you say never happens and sometimes your company says when trying to find an innocent person guilty of theft would be so obvious to the user that it would be spotted and rectified immediately.
And of course it keeps getting worse. Even when you spotted this error in 2012 and tried to fix it you didn’t even manage to do that so when the SAME error occurred yet again in 2013 it proved that even when you know about an error it can remain in the system for three years or more – iwe have no way of telling whether or not it re-occurred in 2014 – my bet though is that it did. You compound all of these errors and inconsistencies by failing to notify the branch network to look out for these errors even when you know them to exist. In private emails your team decide not to tell anyone about them to protect the reputation of the system yet you prosecute someone on the premise that the losses that occurred at her branch could not have been the result of computer error because she would have noticed it.
So there we have it – it is not all of the story, there is a lot more evidence to suggest that Seema Misra was incarcerated unjustly. You just need to read the transcript to see that. I am truly and utterly gobsmacked that had the transcript not been made public I would not have been in a position to ensure Seema’c conviction is overturned which it will be – if you can’t see that now then I truly pity you.
Seema’s case is before the CCRC now for review. They have been sitting on it for 18 months and from what I hear they will sit on it for another 18 months, but it is not going away. It will be returned to the appeal court and you and your company will be publicly humiliated.
On Sunday you will no doubt attend church and pray to your God. You will thank him for sacrificing His Son so that our world can be a better place to live in. You will celebrate with your family. No doubt you will open expensive gifts from one another and reflect on what has personally been a very financially rewarding career at the Post Office.
I don’t know Seema. I don’t know whether or not she and her family celebrate Christian events but she may well be reflecting on yet another year without her conviction being overturned. I suspect it is too late for you to intercede in the CCRC process but what you can do is call Seema and tell her that you are sorry for the actions of your employees. That you recognise her conviction is unsafe and will do everything you can to ensure it is overturned as soon as possible.
This is the best gift you can give anybody this Xmas and it won’t cost more than a price of a phone call.
Call her now Paula and pray to your God for forgiveness that you have not done this sooner. It would be a sin not to.
I wish you and your family a merry Xmas and I trust you reflect on the fact that on Xmas day 2010, Seema Misra was heavily pregnant and in prison as a result of your team’s misguided efforts. I wonder what she was thinking then? What her family were thinking?