Post Office chiefs watched a pregnant mother get jailed for ‘stealing’ from the post office she ran – while hushing up a blockbuster report revealing a computer accounts glitch.
Seema Misra was one of hundreds of sub-postmasters whose lives were ruined when they were blamed for cash losses in their branches.
She was convicted of theft and sentenced to 15 months while eight weeks’ pregnant with her second child, after the computer in her village post office recorded a shortfall that could not be explained.
Seema Misra was one of hundreds of sub-postmasters whose lives were ruined when they were blamed for cash losses in their branches. Two months after the secret memo, she went on trial accused of stealing £74,000
She was jailed on her son’s 10th birthday. Yet a secret internal memo now reveals postal bosses knew at the time there was a problem with the computer system but covered it up.
The explosive document has emerged during a High Court trial in which more than 500 former sub-postmasters, are suing the Post Office.
They claim they were wrongly blamed for money going ‘missing’ in their branches when the supposed shortfalls were caused by glitches in the Horizon computer terminals installed by the Post Office.
Many were jailed, sent bankrupt or otherwise ruined, and at least one suicide was blamed on the errors.
The state-owned Post Office has spent £5million of public money defending itself in court and maintains there is no significant problem with its computers.
But it has been forced to disclose confidential emails for the proceedings, including the internal memo in August 2010 which confesses a ‘bug’ in the Horizon software was causing discrepancies in the accounts of about 40 post offices.
Noel Thomas, former sub-postmaster, whose life was ruined after he was accused of stealing from the Post Office branch he ran. He was among more than 500 now suing the Post Office at the High Court, claiming they were victims of glitches in the computer terminals and software suites they were given
The five-page memo, copied to IT experts and Post Office executives, admits: ‘If widely known, [this] could cause a loss of confidence in the Horizon system by branches’, adding there could be a ‘potential impact upon ongoing legal cases where branches are disputing the integrity of Horizon data’.
One such case was Mrs Misra’s. Two months after the secret memo, she went on trial accused of stealing £74,000.
The sub-postmistress, 43, and her husband Davinder, 47, had invested £200,000 to run their village post office in West Byfleet, Surrey.
They put in a further £20,000 of their own money to make up for mysterious shortfalls that plagued their accounts. But the Horizon computer system continued to flag up baffling losses.
There was no direct evidence of theft. At her trial, Mrs Misra told jurors about the computer problems but was found guilty of theft without the jury knowing that the Post Office had admitted internally to an IT ‘bug’ two months earlier.
Mrs Misra was given a 15-month sentence and spent the second trimester of her pregnancy behind bars. She was released on an electronic tag after four months.
Her husband said he felt ‘ashamed of this country’, adding: ‘My wife is a good citizen. We are good people.’
The Criminal Cases Review Commission is examining Mrs Misra’s conviction as a possible miscarriage of justice.
The Post Office’s ‘bug’ memo was written in response to a complaint from another sub-postmistress, Pamela Stubbs.
Post Office chiefs watched a pregnant mother get jailed for ‘stealing’ from the post office she ran – while hushing up a blockbuster report revealing a computer accounts glitch. Many others were jailed, sent bankrupt or otherwise ruined, and at least one suicide was blamed on the errors [File photo]
The 557 claimants say the Post Office imposed Horizon on them. The terminals record all over-the-counter transactions.
They claim the accounts are held by the Post Office, not the sub-postmasters who have no means of checking errors.
The Post Office denies all the allegations in the case, which is due to last for months, and maintains its computer system was not at fault. It blames error or dishonesty.
A Post Office spokesman said: ‘The claimants represent a very small proportion (0.01 per cent) of users of our Horizon computer system.’
How one 70-year-old woman was even chased for £27k she ‘did not owe’
Pamela Stubbs also fell foul of the system after failing to match the takings in her branch to the balance on the Horizon terminal.
The IT system claimed she had ‘lost’ £27,000 and demanded she pay it back.
The 70-year-old was never told bosses privately suspected losses at Barkham Post Office in Berkshire were ‘Horizon-related’.
Mrs Stubbs refused to pay the money. She was suspended and stripped of her post office.
Giving evidence at the High Court last week, Mrs Stubbs said: ‘I was told there was nothing wrong with the Horizon system.’
The Post Office QC said her replacement had no problems with the system.