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‘They picked on the wrong woman’, says former sub-postmistress

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SEEMA MISRA, who was pregnant when she was maliciously and wrongly jailed for stealing from the Post Office, has told Eastern Eye that more than a decade later she still gets flashbacks about her time in prison and being tagged.

The former Surrey sub-postmistress revealed that she was prepared to abort her unborn son for which her husband and she had been trying for eight years if it meant having him in jail.

Misra said that no amount of money could compensate her family for the suffering they endured and continue to face.

She was one of several hundred postmistresses and masters whom the Post Office prosecuted while knowing they were using a faulty Horizon IT system.

“Just last month, I was cooking in the kitchen, and I needed to put stuff in the bin,” Misra explained. “I was just about to step outside, and then I realised oh, no, I can’t go, I’ve got a tag on.

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“It took me couple of minutes to realise no Seema you don’t have a tag on, that was a while ago.

“I don’t want to live like that, I haven’t done anything wrong.

“When I go to the supermarket, when shoppers move a trolley, it can give me a shock because it reminds me of trolleys in the prison when they used to bring breakfast.

“It shouldn’t be like that at all, it should be the post office suffering not me.”

Racist slurs

Once she was jailed, some villagers in West Byfleet, where the couple lived, attacked her husband, Davinder, or Dave, as he is known.

“Dave got beaten three times while I was in the prison,” the former sub-mistress recalled.

“They called him a P*** and told him to go back, they said that he had stolen the pensioners’ money what else was he waiting for?

“Because he had our son at home, he could even scream.

“He didn’t tell me when I was in prison, he only told me when I came out.

“They kicked him, and he didn’t make any noise because our son was at home, what if he realised something was happening and came out, they’d have him as well?”

Misra was sentenced on her son’s 10th birthday.

She fainted in the dock and woke up at the Royal Surrey Hospital shackled to a bed.

The couple hid the conviction from their son for more than a decade so he would never experience the pressure they were put under.

Shunned

Her so-called friends – both white and south Asian – melted away and wanted nothing to do with them, Misra said.

But her family and relatives rallied around.

“When the paper came out my family used to go to all the shops and buy all the papers so nobody else sees that I’ve been jailed.

“They’d throw them in the bin so nobody else sees that I was labelled the pregnant thief.”

Misra told Eastern Eye that prior to the scandal, Dave and she were entrepreneurs with a flourishing property business.

She bought a 3,000 square feet property in 2008, where she built her post office, for £200,00.

The former sub-mistress would be forced to sell that a couple of years later for around £80,000.

Misra said she experienced problems with the Horizon system from day one, while she was being trained by the Post Office.

Like many victims, the Post Office forced Misra to pay tens of thousands of pounds “shortfall” from her own purse.

“We were losing money and without any support from the Post Office we tried to find the missing money.

“We started borrowing money from the friends and family and selling jewellery.

“In the end whatever money we made from shop, we would just throw it into the Post Office, and I just gave up.”

Despite calling the helpline, the Post Office told her that she was the only one who was experiencing shortfalls – like every victim of the scandal.

‘Bizarre system’

It suspended her in March 2008 after auditors found an £80,000 hole.

But bizarrely a locum postmaster found no shortfall in his accounts – instead he had a £4,000 surplus.

So, the Post Office prosecuted her for false accounting and stealing just under £75,000.

Misra pleaded guilty to false accounting but maintained her innocence when it came to the theft charge.

“I just went to Yellow Pages and got a solicitor and most of them told me to plead guilty for the theft charges to get a lesser sentence.

“I told them that I didn’t feel comfortable pleading guilty for something which I never did, I won’t be able to live with it.”

She told Eastern Eye that she had faith in the justice system and that a jury would never convict an innocent woman.

Her trail took place in October 2010, in front of all-white jury, and on the 11 November – her eldest son’s birthday – it found her guilty.

She could not keep her promise to make his favourite curry that evening.

Her faith in Britain’s justice system disappeared.

Prison life

Prison was not a pleasant experience.

“I never thought I’d come out alive,” she recalled. “People were self-harming and there was blood all over the place, I thought anybody would come and stab me or I could get contaminated with some sort of disease.”

Misra served four of the 15-month sentence and was let out in March 2011 for good behaviour.

Yet in June she faced the ignominy of giving birth to her second son while wearing an electronic tag.

Her ordeal was far from over, she said.

“We lost everything, we had to sell the business at a loss, the Post Office confiscated our buy-to-let property in London, which we paid more than £100,000 pounds in 2000.

“I had to go to back to the court again, because the Post Office said I need to pay the legal fees, so they confiscated property.”

Misra had her conviction overturned in 2021, along with two others, after the Court of Appeal found that the Post Office had abused its powers.

But even today, she told Eastern Eye that she did not have the courage to let her younger son know about her suffering.

And it is clear how much she despises her former employer.

“They are like the mafia, but they are not above the law.

“They forced my barrister and solicitor to step down, and that was a scary moment.

“If they can get my solicitor and barrister to step down, they’re capable of with anything.

“They wanted to make an example of me and anyone who criticised Horizon, but they picked on the wrong woman.

“They thought I was some little Indian woman who wouldn’t fight back, and they were wrong.”

Destroyed dreams

Her witness statement to the Post Office Horizon inquiry quotes Eastern Eye, where editor-at-large, Amit Roy, wrote about her ordeal.

He described it using a disturbing metaphor of its then chief executive, Paula Vennels, having “her knee pressed on Seema Misra’s neck so she cannot breathe”, reminiscent of the death of the black America, George Floyd.

Misra told this newspaper that the Post Office had destroyed their dreams.

The government, she said, must act to speed up the compensation process and secure true justice for those whose lives the Post Office had ruined.

One unintended consequence is that her eldest son tells anyone meeting his mum for the first time her terrible story, to avoid surprises.

Yet remarkably, despite what Misra has been through, she told Eastern Eye that “life was good”.

“We were thinking we want to set up charities in the UK and India to help people that’s for sure,” Misra said.

“Our outlook on life’s changed, and we want to give some back to community.”

 

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