Indian-origin woman of UK's Post Office scandal rejects apology

At the ongoing public inquiry into the scandal, she told the BBC that the apology of ex-Fujitsu engineer Gareth Jenkins was "too little, too late".
Former sub-postmistress Seema Misra, who was wrongly imprisoned, poses for a photograph at her home in Knaphill on January 12, 2024.
Former sub-postmistress Seema Misra, who was wrongly imprisoned, poses for a photograph at her home in Knaphill on January 12, 2024.Photo | AFP

LONDON: An Indian-origin former manager of a Post Office in England wrongly jailed while pregnant has rejected the apology of an engineer whose evidence helped convict her over faulty accounting software.

Seema Misra, now 47, had her conviction quashed in April 2021 as the Court of Appeal ruled that she had been wrongly imprisoned over 12 years ago after being accused of stealing GBP 75,000 from her Post Office branch in Surrey where she was the sub-postmistress.

At the ongoing public inquiry into the scandal, she told the BBC that the apology of ex-Fujitsu engineer Gareth Jenkins was "too little, too late".

"Nobody can understand it," she said of the ordeal she went through and said Jenkins could have apologised ages ago.

Her reaction followed a written witness statement submitted to the Post Office Inquiry by Jenkins, in which he said: "I did not know that Mrs Misra was pregnant at the time of her conviction and only learned of this many years later.

"This makes what has happened even more tragic. I can only apologise, again, to Mrs Misra and her family for what happened to her."

The former engineer who appeared as an expert witness in 15 sub-postmaster cases is currently being investigated by police for potential perjury or lying to a court.

In one of his earlier witness statements to the inquiry, he denied any wrongdoing.

Earlier, Misra had rejected a similar apology from former Post Office Managing Director David Smith for a congratulatory email he sent after Misra's conviction.

It was intended to be a congratulatory email to the team, knowing that they had worked hard on the case, Smith said in his written evidence to the inquiry.

However, knowing what I do now, it is evident that my email would have caused Seema Misra and her family substantial distress to read and I would like to apologise for that… Even if this had been a correct conviction, I would absolutely never think that it was ‘brilliant news' for a pregnant woman to go to prison and I am hugely apologetic that my email can be read as such,” he said.

However, seeing this email in the light of what I" know now, I understand the anger and the upset that it will have caused and sincerely apologise for that," he added.

"I was eight weeks pregnant they need to apologise to my youngest son. It was terrible. I haven't accepted the apologies," Misra said at the time in April.

"We had my conviction overturned, nobody came at that time to apologise.

And now they just suddenly realised that when they have to appear in a public inquiry, they have to apologise," she said.

Misra was sent to Bronzefield prison in south-east England and served four-and-a-half months, later giving birth to her second son wearing an electronic tag.

Smith told the inquiry that Misra had been used as a "test case" and the success of the case led to more confidence in the faulty Horizon IT accounting system.

"How can they do a test on a human being? I'm a living creature. I heard that my case has been used as a test case before. But hearing it again and again, it's just annoying. It makes me more and more angry, to be honest," Misra added.

The UK government, which formally owns Post Office Ltd, has paid out millions in compensation to hundreds of sub-postmasters – many of them of Indian heritage impacted by the faulty Horizon software.

Earlier this year, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak pledged action in the historic scandal which wrongly accused sub-postmasters of fraud.

Last month, a new law tabled in Parliament introduced the Post Office (Horizon System) Offences Bill, a blanket exoneration to quash convictions brought about by erroneous Horizon evidence.

A public inquiry in the case, underway in a phased manner, is expected to conclude in July.

The controversial Horizon system, developed by the Japanese company Fujitsu, was first rolled out in 1999 to some post offices to be used for a variety of tasks, including accounting and stocktaking.

But it appeared to have significant bugs, which could cause the system to misreport, sometimes involving large sums as was the case in the case of these sub-postmasters.

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