Disgraced ex-Post Office boss Paula Vennells has admitted she “made mistakes” but denied there was a conspiracy to cover up the Horizon scandal.

The 65-year-old ordained priest began her evidence at the Horizon IT inquiry on Wednesday by apologising for “all that subpostmasters and families have suffered”.

Asked if she was the “unluckiest CEO in the United Kingdom”, she said she had been “too trusting”.

Ms Vennells was given a self-incrimination warning by chairman Sir Wyn Williams at the start of her evidence, but told him: “Thank you, Sir Wyn… I plan to answer all questions.”

In his questions to the former chief executive, counsel to the inquiry Jason Beer KC asked: “Was there a conspiracy at the Post Office, which lasted for nearly 12 years, involving a wide range of people, differing over time, to deny you information and to deny you documents and to falsely give you reassurance?”

Ms Vennells replied: “No, I don’t believe that was the case.”

She went on: “I have been disappointed, particularly more recently, listening to evidence of the inquiry where I think I remember people knew more than perhaps either they remembered at the time or I knew of at the time.

“I have no sense that there was any conspiracy at all. My deep sorrow in this is that I think that individuals, myself included, made mistakes, didn’t see things, didn’t hear things.

“I may be wrong but that wasn’t the impression that I had at the time, I have more questions now but a conspiracy feels too far-fetched.”

Asked who was responsible for organising and structuring the company, she said: “As CEO you are accountable for everything. You have experts to report to you.”

As his first major question to Ms Vennells, Mr Beer said: “Do you think you are the unluckiest CEO in the United Kingdom?”

Ms Vennells replied: “As the inquiry has heard, there was information I wasn’t given and others didn’t receive as well.

“One of my reflections of all of this – I was too trusting.

“I did probe and I did ask questions, and I’m disappointed where information wasn’t shared, and it has been a very important time for me to plug some of those gaps.”

During her opening statement, Ms Vennells apologised specifically to former subpostmaster and lead campaigner Alan Bates.

She said: “I would just like to say – and I’m grateful for the opportunity to do this – how sorry I am for all that subpostmasters and their families and others have suffered as a result of all of the matters that the inquiry is looking into.

“I followed and listened to all of the human impact statements and I was very affected by them.”

Ms Vennells added: “I also offer my apologies to Alan Bates, Ian Henderson, Ron Warmington, Lord Arbuthnot and all those who worked with them to secure justice for the subpostmasters.”

Post Office Horizon IT scandal
Former Post Office boss Paula Vennells (centre) arrives to give evidence to the Post Office Horizon IT Inquiry at Aldwych House in central London (Yui Mok/PA)

The inquiry heard that Ms Vennells had prepared a 775-page witness statement, which took seven months to write.

Hundreds of subpostmasters were prosecuted by the business between 1999 and 2015 after Horizon, owned by Japanese company Fujitsu, made it appear as though money was missing at their branches.

The Metropolitan Police previously said they are looking at “potential fraud offences” arising out of the prosecution of subpostmasters; for example, “monies recovered as a result of prosecutions or civil actions”.

Two Fujitsu experts, who were witnesses in the trials, are being investigated for perjury and perverting the course of justice – but nobody has been arrested since the inquiry was launched in January 2020.

There are unlikely to be any criminal charges until inquiry chairman Sir Wyn completes his final report, which is expected to be published next year.

In the meantime, hundreds of subpostmasters are still awaiting compensation despite the Government announcing that those who have had convictions quashed are eligible for £600,000 payouts.