Wrongly jailed subpostmistress refuses to accept celebrating director’s apology

11 April 2024, 18:44

Seema Misra with her husband Davinder
Post Office court case. Picture: PA

Seema Misra ran a post office in West Byfleet, Surrey.

A former subpostmistress who was wrongly jailed while pregnant has refused to accept the apology of a Post Office managing director who appeared to celebrate her conviction.

David Smith told the Horizon IT Inquiry he understood the “anger and upset” and acknowledged the “substantial distress” he caused after telling Post Office staff that the result of Seema Misra’s trial was “brilliant news”.

Speaking in the witness box at the inquiry on Thursday, Mr Smith said that “looking through the 2024 lens” he could see his email was “poorly thought through”.

But Mrs Misra told the BBC he needed to apologise to her son after she was jailed on his 10th birthday.

She said: “How can I accept the apology?

“I was eight weeks pregnant – they need to apologise to my youngest son. It was terrible. I haven’t accepted the apologies.”

Mrs Misra began running a post office in West Byfleet, Surrey, in 2005, but was suspended in 2008 after being accused of stealing £74,000.

She was handed a 15-month prison sentence on her son’s 10th birthday in November 2010.

Her conviction was quashed by the Court of Appeal in 2021.

After her conviction and sentence, Mr Smith sent an email to managers, including then chief executive Paula Vennells, asking to “pass on my thanks” to the legal team.

His email read: “Brilliant news. Well done. Please pass on my thanks to the team.”

Addressing the email, Mrs Misra told the BBC: “Seeing it again makes me more and more angry.”

In his statement to the inquiry, Mr Smith said: “It was intended to be a congratulatory email to the team, knowing that they had worked hard on the case.

“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.

“My comment of ‘brilliant news’ was in relation to me thinking that it was brilliant news that, in my mind, Horizon had been proved to be robust following the testing of the expert evidence in the trial.

“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.

“Regardless of the result, I would have thanked the team for their work on the case.

David Smith giving evidence
David Smith giving evidence (Post Office Horizon IT Inquiry/PA)

“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.”

Asked by counsel to the inquiry Sam Stevens why Mrs Misra’s conviction was “brilliant news”, Mr Smith said: “First of all, I’d just like to place on record an apology to Seema Misra and family because of the way this has been perceived and portrayed subsequently.

“Looking at it through their eyes rather than mine, you can see that it may have caused substantial upset and I really do apologise for that.

“At the time, what I’m doing here is what I would do generally with lots of things in business – I’m saying to the team ‘thank you for all your hard work, it’s terrific you’ve got the result that you’ve got and I’m really happy that we’ve progressed’.

“It’s nothing more or less than that – and in the context of probably receiving 200-300 emails a day, which would have been typical at that time, I would literally have gone ‘brilliant news, well done, thanks very much, send’ and that would have been it.

“In the benefit of hindsight and looking through the 2024 lens and not the 2010 lens, at best, from Seema’s perspective, you can see this is really poorly thought-through and I do apologise again for that.”

By Press Association