FORMER Post Office boss Paula Vennells is to hand back her CBE following the fallout of the Horizon IT scandal which led to the wrongful prosecution of hundreds of subpostmasters.

The former chief executive, who ran the Post Office while it routinely denied there was a problem with its Horizon IT system, was appointed a CBE in December 2018.

Her decision to return the honour comes after an ITV drama returned the widespread miscarriage of justice to the spotlight.

READ MORE: John Drummond: UK’s Post Office scandal is clear sign of immoral nation

In a statement, Vennells said: “I continue to support and focus on co-operating with the inquiry and expect to be giving evidence in the coming months.

“I have so far maintained my silence as I considered it inappropriate to comment publicly while the inquiry remains ongoing and before I have provided my oral evidence.

“I am, however, aware of the calls from subpostmasters and others to return my CBE. I have listened and I confirm that I return my CBE with immediate effect.

“I am truly sorry for the devastation caused to the sub-postmasters and their families, whose lives were torn apart by being wrongly accused and wrongly prosecuted as a result of the Horizon system.

“I now intend to continue to focus on assisting the inquiry and will not make any further public comment until it has concluded.”

An online petition calling on Vennells to give up her CBE is currently on more than 1.2 million signatures.

On Tuesday, it was revealed that the UK Justice Secretary, Alex Chalk, was holding crunch talks with judges with a view to expedite clearing the names of the hundreds of subpostmasters who were wrongfully convicted in the Horizon scandal.

Ministers “intend to move very quickly” to resolve the issue, Work and Pensions Secretary Mel Stride said.

The National: Justice Secretary Alex Chalk is in talks with members of the judiciary about the Horizon scandal

He told Times Radio: “Alex Chalk (above), the Justice Secretary, is in discussions with senior people within the justice system, judges and so on, to look at what the options are to make sure that we push through that backlog of appeals as quickly as possible.”

On Sky News, he added: “My understanding is that they are happening now.

“So this is something that is happening hour by hour. It’s not something that’s going to happen next week. It is happening right now and we intend to move very quickly.”

A solution could be announced by the end of the week, the Cabinet minister said.

With more than 700 subpostmasters having received criminal convictions for allegations such as theft and false accounting after the Post Office introduced faulty software, Stride was challenged over the slow pace of them being cleared and whether the Government was asleep at the wheel.

“I wouldn’t accept that,” he said, pointing to the public inquiry examining what went wrong being set up some years ago and the payout of £138 million of compensation.

READ MORE: Firm at centre of Post Office scandal has major Government contract renewed

Asked whether Rishi Sunak as chancellor was slow to pay out compensation to subpostmasters, Stride said: “No, I don’t think that is a fair charge at all.”

MPs have called for Fujitsu, the firm behind the faulty Horizon accounting software that made it look as if money was missing from shops, to pay for compensating wronged Post Office staff.

Stride suggested the company might have to stump up if the inquiry concludes it blundered, saying it “won’t necessarily just be the taxpayer” who is “on the hook for this money”.

Ministers are looking at changing the rules around private prosecutions by companies, Stride said, amid calls including from Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer (below) to strip prosecution powers from the Post Office.

The National: Sir Keir Starmer has refused to commit to further spending under a Labour government amid growing calls from unions for him to back more of their policy priorities (BBC/PA)

The senior Tory also said Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey has “big questions” to answer on his role in the Horizon scandal as postal affairs minister between 2010 and 2012.

Reports suggest that 50 new potential victims have approached lawyers since ITV’s Mr Bates vs The Post Office was broadcast.

The Post Office is wholly owned by the Government.