news

Turbulent priest
Paula Vennells, Issue 1547
"THE challenges facing the Church of England are remarkably similar to those facing the Post Office," Paula Vennells told an audience of business leaders in a lecture at Lambeth Palace in 2013.

paula-vennells.jpg
WISDOM OF SOLOMON? Paula Vennells, who is suspending her ministry during the inquiry into the Post Office Horizon scandal
She had recently been made CEO of the Post Office, and as a successful businesswoman who was also a priest she seemed a perfect poster girl for Christian engagement. Archbishop Justin Welby appointed her to the church's ethical investment advisory group; she in turn plugged his book Reimagining Britain and joined a Welby initiative called "Nurturing and Discerning Leadership".

Barrage of legal claims
Her audience in 2013 probably assumed those "remarkably similar" challenges were about winning back a declining customer base, but she may have been thinking of the challenge of facing down a barrage of legal claims. At the time, Vennells was supervising a vigorous legal defence against sub-postmasters who had been wrongly dismissed, fined or jailed because of the now discredited Horizon accounting computer system (Eyes passim).

"Technology is wonderful if you can harness it well," she said, apparently without irony, in a pep talk to London clergy in 2017. "My faith has been absolutely central to transforming the Post Office. Our corporate values are based on the Second Commandment: Love your neighbour as yourself." The C of E's Faith in Business organisation marvelled at her employment practices, saying Vennells took "Biblical inspiration from the young King Solomon" in ruling "with justice".

A distraction from good work
A fortnight ago, shortly after ending her services to Mammon – directorships at Dunelm and Morrisons – she also "stepped back" from serving God as the assistant priest at St Owen's church in the Bedfordshire village of Bromham. The local bishop, Rt Revd Alan Smith, is the son of a postmaster but has declined to criticise her. A massively understated announcement from St Albans Diocese said that Revd Paula Vennells was suspending her ministry for the duration of the government inquiry, but only because her "involvement with the Post Office has become a distraction from the good work undertaken in the Diocese". The initiative came from her, not from the bishop. Indeed, he has defended her, saying that "in an organisation of the size and complexity of the Post Office, the company is not simply a manifestation of the chief executive officer's personal will and diktat". It seems he has found a hitherto unknown line in the Sermon on the Mount: "Don't blame the boss."

No publicity?
Canon law says that once a priest like Vennells is licensed to a parish she can't be shifted. The weaselly expression "stepped back from ministry" means she retains all her rights as a minister but won't draw the raffle at the summer fête. Still, it's not all bad news for Vennells. The May edition of the Bromham, Oakley and Stagsden Parish News announced that "Paula Vennells" had won the £100 first prize for April in her local church's 100 Club lottery – but the online edition was swiftly revised last week to semi-anonymise her as "Paula". Perhaps she had ticked the box for no publicity.

More top stories in the latest issue:

FLAT BROKE?
A county court judgment for an unpaid debt of £535 has been issued against one Boris Johnson of 10 Downing Street.

HARBORNE AGAIN
The Hartlepool by-election result puts the late Brexit party and its mysterious Thailand-based moneybags Christopher Harborne back in the spotlight.

HITACHI HITCH
Chaos on Great Western and east-coast mainlines is another symptom of the lobbying culture and confirms Whitehall's dismal record on procurement.

CORDON BLUES
Peaceful protesters at next month's G7 summit in Cornwall will have to shout very loudly as police corral them miles (and miles) away from the venue.

FRIENDS LIKE THESE…
The John Lewis Partnership wants to "own the ethical agenda" – so just the time to do a deal with Deliveroo at 150 stores in England and Scotland.

INTELLIGENCE TEST
Despite official reluctance, Scottish authorities opened a discreet back channel to obtain military grade intelligence to help in the fight against Covid-19.

HOME AFFRONT
Pressure mounts on the government to change course yet again on its "inhumane and discriminatory" house arrest policy for care home residents.

OUT OF SIGHT
After the first lockdown, when many of the most vulnerable children were not in school, doctors saw a marked increase in those with "abusive head trauma".

BILL OF HEALTH
Homeware store Wilko's plan to cut sick pay for 17,000 staff, revealed by the Eye in March, has largely been reversed thanks to action by the GMB union

BAD CALL
The inadequacy of government aid to help disability charities expand their helplines has forced one major organisation to hang up the phones.

SAFETY CATCH
The £3m given to a Tory party election consultant last summer to dream up a campaign that encouraged people to go into shops and bars without masks.

BRUSSELS SPRATS
The EU common fisheries policy may have been a disaster for UK fishermen, but many are finding life as an "independent coastal nation" even worse.

To read all the latest Private Eye news, get the latest edition - you can subscribe here and have the magazine delivered to your home every fortnight.

Next issue on sale: 26th May 2021
gnitty
ALSO IN THIS ISSUE
ONLY IN THE MAGAZINE
Private Eye Issue 1547
In This Issue
Why we salute brilliant Boris – exclusive to all newspapers who suggested he was a useless sleazeball… Binface Party has lost its way after trying to become less silly, says Labour party observer… Care homes to have discretion over whether to give residents a reason to live… President Putin furious at being linked to discredited member of British royal family… Dalek Zeg outed for bad behaviour on set of Doctor Who… Duchess of Sussex accused of plagiarism by fellow children's author Sarah Ferguson… Hugo Vickers: My Cecil Beaton Diary, as told to Craig Brown

Fraud focus
The Serious Farce Office in the dock

Royal pretender
A fake toff cons the Street of Shame

EU greenwash
Brussels caves in over what 'green' means

Read these stories and much more - only in the magazine. Subscribe here to get delivery direct to your home and never miss an issue!
ONLY £2.00
SUBSCRIBE HERE
NEXT ISSUE ON SALE
26th May 2021
WHY SUBSCRIBE?
Private Eye Issue 1546
MORE FROM PRIVATE EYE