Life after: Wrongful conviction – FFA

Seema Misra, former subpostmaster, was already pregnant when she was convicted of theft as part the Post Office scandal. It took 11 years for her innocence to be proven.

Seema Misra was sentenced for 15 months for theft and false accounting. post officeIn court, she collapsed. “I don’t know what happened to me,” Misra says. “I opened my eyes and I was in hospital with sharp pains in my stomach.” She was then taken to Europe’s largest female prison, in Ashford, Surrey, where she was placed on suicide watch.

Misra had been convicted by a jury days earlier in November 2010, which had come as a “complete shock”. Confident that the truth would prevail, she had refused to plead guilty despite her lawyers’ advice that doing so could incur a lighter sentence.

Misra never dreamed that she would be sentenced to a custodial sentence. The sentencing came on her son’s 10th birthday, and her voice breaks when she recalls saying goodbye to him that morning before attending court, convinced she would soon be home for celebrations. “I promised him, ‘When you come home [from school] I’m going to make your favourite curry.’”

Misra claims that her new life inside prevented her from taking her own lives. She discovered that she was pregnant with her second child, after eight years of trying. She is a devout Hindu and now views the timing as divine intervention. “If I hadn’t been pregnant I would have definitely killed myself.”

Their lives were happy until the Misras bought a West Byfleet post office, Surrey, in 2005. But from the very first day, while she was still being trained to use the Post Office’s Horizon accounting software, she could not get it to balance the books. The system showed a shortfall of around £80, which her trainer shrugged off. “He said it was ‘never penny to penny’.” Misra, formerly a financial controller in the City, was confused: “Why wouldn’t it be?”

The shortfalls grew over the next months. Misra was visited by Post Office auditors who found a £4,000 discrepancy and deducted the money from her salary. Towering over her, the auditors acted “like bouncers”, she says, warning that her franchise could be removed. “They said: ‘We have so many post offices that are doing fine. It’s just [yours] that we have an issue with.’” In early 2008, an audit found a £75,000 shortfall and Misra was suspended and charged.

Positive thinking is what I believe in. I knew we would achieve justice in the end.

Her incarceration at HMP Bronzefield was “the scariest time”, she says. “There [were a lot of]Drugs, self-harming, I was afraid that someone would stab me. I was so scared for my life and my baby’s health. I was so scared for my baby’s health that I called home. [someone’s] blood all over the prison phone.”

Press reports branded Misra a “pregnant thief” and Davinder was attacked by thugs who shouted racist insults at him, accusing the couple of coming to the UK “to steal old people’s money”. After four months, Misra was freed for good behavior with an electronic tag that she had to wear even though she was giving birth.

Misra was victim to a racist attack by her friends. She was unable to find work and she refused to give up on her desire to prove her innocence. “I’m a very strong believer in God and in positive thinking, so I knew we would get justice in the end.”


Misra was finally convicted in 2021. Image by Helena Dolby

Davinder had tweeted Nick Wallis, then-BBC Radio Surrey journalist, while his wife was locked up. This was to drum up business for his taxi service. Wallis flatly offered to use this service if Davinder had any interesting stories. He replied that he did – and so began a lengthy journalistic investigation, in which Wallis would bring to national attention the vast scale of Post Office prosecutions of its own staff since the Horizon software was rolled out. In 2019, Misra was one of 557 claimants to whom the Post Office agreed to pay nearly £58m in compensation after losing a landmark civil litigation case (though most of the payout went on legal fees). In 2021, she was overjoyed when her conviction was finally overturned by the court of appeal and the government announced interim compensation of £100,000 to all wrongfully convicted subpostmasters.

Misra testified at a public inquiry into Post Office Horizon’s scandal in February. She hopes the inquiry will lead to those responsible for what has been called the UK’s largest miscarriage of justice being held to account. She is determined to enjoy every day of her family life for now. Her eldest son is about to embark on a master’s at a prestigious university, while her baby boy is now a cheeky 10-year-old. “Even when I was going through such hardship, just looking at my family’s faces in the morning has always given me such pleasure and I feel truly, truly blessed,” Misra says.

She laughs. “I think everything happens for a reason. Maybe God wanted some strong kids to come out of this.”

Main image: Helena Dolby

Life After: Tragedy, trauma and adversity: life’s challenges can be immense, but we can learn from them too. Our Life After series takes an in-depth look at how people have adapted and grown from such challenges, and how their experience can inspire others.


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