'Being pregnant in prison was horrendous': British Indian falsely accused in Post Office scandal

  • IANS
  • World News
'Being pregnant in prison was horrendous': British Indian falsely accused in Post Office scandal

London, Jan 7 (IANS) In the most widespread miscarriage of justice in British legal history, a pregnant Indian-origin woman was among hundreds of employees falsely accused of theft and fraud by the Post Office over a 15-year period.In 2010, Seema Misra was eight weeks pregnant with her second child when she was sentenced to 15 months behind bars after she was accused by the publicly-owned Post Office of stealing GBP 74,000.

Now 47, Misra ended up serving four months in prison due to a glitch in the accounting system, which wrongly reported financial discrepancies at several post office branches.

The real culprit, the Horizon IT accounting system -- developed and operated by Japanese firm Fujitsu Ltd on behalf of Post Office -- led to more than 700 sub-postmasters and mistresses being prosecuted between 1999 and 2015, with four of them committing suicide.

"When the judge said I’d been sentenced to 15 months’ imprisonment, I passed out... If I hadn’t been pregnant, I would have taken my own life. I was at rock bottom,” Misra told The Sun.

She was still wearing her electronic probation tag when she gave birth to her second son in hospital after her release.

As the Metropolitan Police investigates the Post Office, the scandal is now the subject of a new ITV (LON: ITV ) drama 'Mr Bates vs The Post Office', which tells how a group of wrongfully-accused Post Office workers fought back in a bid to clear their names. It aired on January 4.

What exactly happened

In 2005, when Mishra took over the Post Office in West Byfleet, Surrey, she noticed the Horizon computer system showed a shortfall of 80 pounds on her first day of training.

It happened again the next day and her books repeatedly failed to tally with her takings even as the trainer told her the accounts were never exact

She didn’t understand why they wouldn’t tally, especially when it happened again the next day, but the trainer shrugged it off

“I started suspecting everybody, and I was desperately trying to pay back the missing money -- I even sold some of my jewellery,” the mother of two told The Sun.

"It was a living nightmare"

In 2008, Misra was suspended following an audit carried out by the Post Office and was charged with theft and false accounting.

She served her sentence in Bronzefield Prison in Ashford, Surrey, with former inmates, including Rose West, and paedophile Vanessa George, the news report said.

“Being pregnant in prison was horrendous. It was everything I had imagined and worse. It was unclean, I felt I had limited antenatal care, and I was constantly terrified someone would attack me. I’d convince myself someone was going to stab me and kill my baby," she told The Sun.

Speaking about those who she was locked up with, Misra said: “I had no idea what the other inmates had done, but they terrified me. So many of them were taking drugs.

“All night I would lie there awake, listening to them screaming and shouting... The whole experience was a living nightmare," she said.

Misra's husband Davinder was attacked after her picture appeared in the paper, and he went through the ordeal of being ostracised by friends and society, all while looking after their 10-year-old-son.

The family was forced to sell their shop at a throwaway price, and Davinder struggled to work around looking after the couple's son, now 23.

In 2016, more than 500 employees initiated civil proceedings against the Post Office, and the group won its case in the High Court in 2019, with the Post Office agreeing to pay damages.

According to the TIME, as of December, the government has paid out GBP 124.7 million ($158.6 million) in compensation to wrongfully convicted postmasters.

Nobody from the Post Office or Fujitsu had been held accountable as of last year, the TIME report added.

--IANS

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