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'Post Office heads are the Church of England leadership at prayer' says survivor advocate

by Donna Birrell

The battle of Post Office staff to get justice is similar to the plight of survivors of church-related abuse when they've tried to hold the Church to account.

That's according to Martin Sewell, an advocate for survivors and a member of the Church of England's General Synod. He was speaking to Premier as the Prime Minister called the Post Office Horizon scandal an "appalling miscarriage of justice". 

Rishi Sunak says he wants to speed up the compensation process to be given to any post office managers wrongly convicted of fraud because of a flawed IT system known as Horizon.

The scandal has received widespread coverage over the last few days because of an ITV series called Mr Bates vs The Post Office. It has documented how hundreds of staff have had to clear their names after being convicted of fraud and theft because of faulty software.
The organisation refused to accept the software was to blame for the accounting errors and pursued criminal convictions, which in some cases led to prison sentences. 

Now, meetings are being held by the government in an attempt to clear their names.

Martin Sewell told Premier there are so many similarities because survivors have been campaigning for years to get their voices heard:
"If ever you want to believe in providence, the broadcasting of this story at this time makes our life so much simpler because those of us who have been trying to get justice for the victims of the Church of England can do a very simple exercise. We say, look at the Post Office story, and I promise you that for every feature that disturbed you in the Post Office story, I can show you an exact parallel in the Church of England. In fact, the Post Office leadership is the Church of England leadership at prayer."

Sewell says similarities include survivors being given 'non-apology apologies' and that when they asked for documents from the Church, they too have received redacted documents, with all the useful information blotted out. 

He claims there has been victim blaming by the Church and that people who have written about the situation have been "threatened with defamation…When the process was going the wrong way, the Post Office set up a mediation scheme and then they pulled the plug. This is exactly what happened with the Independent Safeguarding Board in the Church of England. Nobody is ever held accountable". 

He continued: "There's nothing that you have seen in the Post Office story that does not have a reflection in the Church of England's treatment of its survivors and the difficulties that we have in getting these stories out there."

A Church of England spokesperson told Premier: "We take the concerns of victims and survivors very seriously and have a dedicated survivor engagement programme. However, we are aware that we do not always get it right and we are always wanting to improve our practice and the Church has commissioned two independent reviews, one by barrister Sarah Wilkinson which has just been published, and the second by the former Chair of IICSA Professor Jay is expected to be published soon."

The Prime Minister is believed to support calls for the former CEO of the Post Office, Paula Vennells, to have her CBE revoked in the wake of the Horizon scandal. It comes after a petition for her to hand back the honour attracted more than a million signatures.

Before working for the Post Office, Ms Vennells trained for ministry in the Diocese of St Albans. She became a priest in 2006 and has served as a non-stipendiary minister at the Church St Owen, Bromham.

In 2021, she reportedly stepped away from her duties as an Anglican priest.

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