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Jan 9th, 2024

Post Office scandal win: Paula Vennells hands back CBE – but fight for justice goes on

By 38 Degrees team

Ex-Post Office boss Paula Vennells has bowed to our 1.2 million strong petition and handed back her CBE – but former sub-postmasters are still waiting for justice, and we’re ready to support them in their fight.

It’s time to celebrate a win for people power after former Post Office boss Paula Vennells bowed to the pressure of more than 1.2 million of us and agreed to hand back her CBE.

Our petition called for Paula Vennells, Chief Executive of the Post Office from 2012 to 2019, to be stripped of her honour for presiding over the institution while it failed to acknowledge fault with the Horizon system and continued to prosecute Post Office staff. The Horizon scandal, which began in 1999, saw hundreds of people wrongly prosecuted over financial shortfalls, which were actually the result of errors in the Post Office’s Horizon computer system.


ITV drama ‘Mr Bates vs the Post Office’ brought the horrifying human impact of these prosecutions home to millions of viewers when it started airing on New Year’s Day- inspiring more than 1,212,279 people to join the 38 Degrees campaign.


Set up three years ago by 38 Degrees supporter David Smith, the petition had just 1,000 signatures until the evening of Monday 1st January, when shocked viewers flocked to the petition to demand removal of the honour. After the final episode aired, it surged past the one million signature mark, making it the fastest-growing petition in 38 Degrees’ history.


This huge public outcry became impossible to ignore, with the petition covered in every major national news outlet, and featuring on the front pages of The Times, The Evening Standard and The Metro.


Further piling on the pressure almost 10,000 signatories also used our platform to write to their MPs, demanding action, after signing.

And on Tuesday, January 9, Paula Vennells finally bowed to the voice of the public, telling the Press Association news agency she was “truly sorry for the devastation caused to the subpostmasters and their families” and that she as continuing to support and co-operate with the inquiry into the scandal.


She added: “I am, however, aware of the calls from sub-postmasters and others to return my CBE. I have listened and I confirm that I return my CBE with immediate effect.”


One wrongfully convicted subpostmistress, Jo Hamilton, whose story featured in the ITV drama, said it “took a million people” to force Paula Vennells’ hand.


“It shows the people have spoken”, she said.


Now, the fight for justice for all those impacted by the scandal will continue – and the 38 Degrees community is ready to help.

Robin Priestley, Campaigns Director at 38 Degrees, said: “This is an incredible example of people power in action. Over the last few days, more than 1.2 million people have called for Paula Vennells to be stripped of her CBE, pushing the campaign to the top of the news agenda and making it impossible to ignore.
“Petition signers, inspired by the amazing work of Alan Bates, the Justice for Subpostmasters Alliance, and ITV’s fantastic dramatisation, not only added their names but they also emailed their MPs, shouted about the campaign on social media, and made sure they were listened to.
“This is a huge symbolic step, but there’s still so much more to do. When petition starter David launched his petition three years ago, he knew this was only one part of righting the wrong done to the hundreds of people whose lives were ruined by Post Office actions and Fujitsu errors. Now it’s time for full compensation, pardons, and accountability for all those responsible.”

Petition starter David Smith, 35, a former software developer from Greater Manchester, said: “To me, the removal of the CBE is just the start. The ultimate goal is for the subpostmasters to get the justice they deserve. In many ways, this is symbolic, but it is a massive symbol.
“What I’m hoping is that as soon as somebody as senior as her is held accountable at this level, it will start a domino effect that will lead to the justice and compensation that everyone affected deserves.”

After the success of the petition, we also spoke to actor Will Mellor, who played subpostmaster Lee Castleton in the drama. In a message for all those who signed the petition, he shared his pride in the people power it demonstrated. 

Will Mellor said: “I feel really proud of what people have achieved here. It shows the power of what people can do when we come together.

“It shouldn’t have taken the drama to do this, but I’m proud that the drama has done it, I’m over the moon that people have got behind this petition to try and get some justice for the Subpostmasters.

“As a first step, this petition and Paula Vennells handing in her CBE has made me very proud, of what we’ve achieved, of what the general public have achieved. It shows the strength that people can have when we come together. 

“This is a first step, but there’s a long way still to go, there’s lots to do to make sure that the subpostmasters get the justice and compensation they deserve.”

The petition is one of hundreds that we host and support, set up by members of the public campaigning for a fairer, more respectful and more sustainable country every year, with millions of actions taken on the site every month – from signing petitions to writing personalised letters to MPs and decision-makers, responding to consultations and chipping in for impactful tactics and stunts. 

Got something you want to change? Start a petition here and it could be the first step to victory. 

You may also want to sign some of our current petitions:

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For more information or to arrange an interview, journalists can contact Hannah Graham, hannah.g@38degrees.org.uk, 07704 547398

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