Paula Vennells has announced she will hand back her CBE with immediate effect, meaning the former Post Office boss now suffers the pain of a slightly shorter name as a consequence of the wrongful conviction of hundreds of subpostmasters.
A petition demanding that she be stripped of the honour had reached 1.2 million signatures, and Rishi Sunak had let it be known that he was very supportive of the Honours Committee looking into whether she should lose the gong. So it was only a matter of time – and Vennells has clearly decided to cut the drama short on this at least.
Vennells and Ed Davey are the current lightning rods for a political debate that should have raged a good while ago. It is natural that people look for scapegoats as a way of channelling their anger about a scandal. But what is more productive is questioning how executives were able to cover up problems with the IT system that made innocent sub postmasters appear to have their fingers in the till. How was it that ministers were so ready to believe the big dogs? How was it that the justice system failed those who were wrongly accused?
So often the rotten thing in these scandals is the incentives for acting in certain ways. All the incentives for Post Office management pointed towards pretending nothing was going wrong. Those incentives haven’t changed that much: is losing a gong really the worst thing that should happen when one of the victims who was jailed was pregnant, and when a number of others have died or committed suicide before seeing justice?