Welby: More questions should have been asked about Vennells’ role in church

More questions should have been asked about the involvement of former Post Office boss Paula Vennells in the Church of England, the Archbishop of Canterbury has said.

Justin Welby made his first public comments about her involvement in the church in response to a written question before the General Synod about reports she nearly became Bishop of London in 2017.

Charles Houston asked whether the Crown Nominations Commission, which Mr Welby chairs, was aware of two High Court claims by subpostmasters made in 2016 and 2017 when she was considered for the bishop role.

In response, Mr Welby described the Post Office scandal as “a terrible miscarriage of justice that has led to heart-breaking suffering for many subpostmasters” and said he is hoping and praying for swift justice for those affected.

The Archbishop of Canterbury’s New Year Message
The Archbishop of Canterbury described the Post Office Horizon scandal as ‘a terrible miscarriage of justice’ (BBC/Lambeth Palace/Jason Bye/PA)

He added: “As has been said more generally about Paula Vennells’ involvement in various committees and working groups in the Church of England, by 2019 and 2020, it is clear that more questions should have been asked about the appropriateness of that involvement when more had come to light about the Horizon scandal.

“We recognise this and will need to reflect on it.”

In response to another question about whether Ms Vennells had enough parish experience to be considered for such a role, he said: “I can confirm that when candidates without significant parish experience are considered, it is because they offer other comparable and relevant experience.

“Parish experience is deemed to be a really important part of the candidate’s ministerial journey but, from time to time, there will be exceptions.”

Ms Vennells, 65, was CEO of the Post Office between 2012 and 2019 and is an ordained Anglican priest.

The scale of the Post Office scandal, which saw hundreds of subpostmasters wrongly convicted of fraud and false accounting due to faults with the Horizon IT system, became increasingly clear under her watch.

She was given a CBE for services to the Post Office and to charity in 2019 but handed it back last month in the face of mounting public anger about the scandal prompted by ITV drama, Mr Bates Vs The Post Office.

She is set to give evidence before the public inquiry into the scandal later this year.

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