23 April 2021

The former subpostmasters who went to prison for crimes they did not commit

23 April 2021

Some of the former subpostmasters who were wrongly convicted of offences went to jail and had to pay the money it was claimed they owed.

Seema Misra, 45, who lives near Woking, Surrey, was eight weeks’ pregnant when she was jailed for 15 months in November 2010 after being found guilty of the theft of £74,600 and having previously admitted six counts of false accounting.

She began running a post office in West Byfleet, Surrey, in 2005 and was suspended in 2008.

She served less than four months in jail before being released on licence and gave birth to her youngest son, now aged nine, after leaving prison.

Post Office court case (PA Wire)

She said: “I’m very, very happy with what’s happened today but also very, very angry.

“This should have been sorted out years ago. They could have saved millions and not ruined a lot of people’s lives.

“I’ve not worked since I left jail – because of my criminal record. It’s starting to sink in now, I’m going to have to getting used to experiencing life as someone who does not have a criminal record.”

She added: “The whole family is so grateful to the court for overturning my conviction … It must never happen again.”

Her husband Davinder, 49, said: “We came here from India. We would never have believed this kind of injustice could happen in Britain.”

Harjinder Butoy, 44, of Chesterfield, Derbyshire, was convicted of theft and jailed for three years and four months in 2008, and described the Post Office as “a disgrace” after his conviction was overturned.

Mr Butoy, who was a subpostmaster in Sutton-in-Ashfield, Nottinghamshire, said his conviction and imprisonment “destroyed my life for 14 years – that’s not going to be replaced”.

He said on Friday that those responsible for the scandal “need to be punished, seriously punished”.

He added: “They’re just bullies, that’s all they are … somebody needs to really, really sort this out and charge them for this. It can’t be pushed under the carpet now.”

Post Office court case (PA Wire)

Mr Butoy said having his name cleared “means everything”, adding: “It’s the start of a new life.”

He said he found it impossible to get a job after spending 18 months of his sentence behind bars and being declared bankrupt, which is why he kept fighting to clear his name.

Mr Butoy said it was “terrible” knowing he was innocent and being sent to jail, and that it felt like “no-one was listening”.

Noel Thomas, 74, worked as a postman from 1965 and became a subpostmaster in 1994, taking over the role from his wife, with whom he had run a post office branch since 1979.

He was jailed for nine months in November 2006 after pleading guilty to one count of false accounting on the basis that he accepted there was a shortfall of £48,450 which he was contractually obliged to make good, but did not know how it had come about.

Mr Thomas said the Post Office told him it would not pursue a charge of theft against him if he admitted the false accounting.

Post Office court case (PA Wire)

Speaking outside the Royal Courts of Justice, he said it felt “great” to finally have been vindicated.

He said: “It means a lot, for my family especially and the people who have stuck by me.

“It has been a long, long time. It’s a big weight off everyone’s shoulders really.”

Mr Thomas, who had been a well-respected county councillor as well as running the Post Office branch in Gaerwen in Anglesey, said he now wants the Post Office to be held to account for the miscarriages of justice suffered by him and others.

He said: “But don’t send them to jail, hit them in their pockets.”

Mr Thomas said he now wants compensation for his losses, adding: “I would like my money back. I reckon I lost around £250,000.

“I lost my salary, my property, my pensions and my good name.”

He said he and others in similar situations felt “there was no way out” while in jail, adding: “But we knew all along we were innocent.”

He said: “The Post Office were just determined there was nothing wrong with the system but they were hiding and lying. All the way through they lied.”

He said he hopes the Government will now take the matter more seriously, but does not believe there will be any criminal prosecutions, adding: “It is going to be hushed up, nobody will be charged.”

Janet Skinner, 50, from Hull, East Yorkshire, pleaded guilty to false accounting and was sentenced to nine months in prison in 2007.

She left the Royal Courts of Justice in London on Friday after being cleared to cheers from former subpostmasters and their supporters.

Post Office court case (PA Wire)

Ms Skinner said she was “relieved” to have finally cleared her name.

She added that to win her case on both grounds of appeal was “amazing”.

Asked what her message was to those responsible for the prosecutions of dozens of subpostmasters, Ms Skinner said: “Watch your backs.”

Tracy Felstead was sentenced to six months’ imprisonment in a young offender institution at Kingston Crown Court in 2002, when she was just 19 years old.

She said she cried when she heard that her conviction was being overturned.

Post Office court case (PA Wire)

Ms Felstead, 38, said after the ruling: “There’s a rollercoaster of emotions going through me right now.

“Obviously, I’m over the moon that my conviction has been quashed after 19 years.

“I’m angry that it even got this far and they have been allowed to do this.

“Sad for all the ones who aren’t here to see all this.”

She added: “My hope is that somebody will be held accountable, that they will get to the bottom of who knew what, where and when.

“Whether that happens, I don’t know – but that’s what I hope happens.”

Ms Felstead said that anyone who “genuinely knew what was going on and they tried to cover it up” should face prosecution themselves.

She said: “We have been prosecuted for something that we actually didn’t do, so hopefully the right things will happen to the people that did know.”

Ms Felstead also supported calls for a public inquiry into the Horizon scandal.

Asked what she was going to do now that her name had finally been cleared, she said: “I’m going to travel home now and celebrate with my family, and try and digest that this has actually happened.”

Vijay Parekh, 62, ran a post office in Willesden, north-west London, and was given an 18-month jail term after being accused of stealing £78,000 and admitting theft.

He said on Friday: “The last 12 years have been absolute hell.”

Post Office court case (PA Wire)

Mr Parekh said he had moved to a post office 14 years ago after working in the rail industry.

“Three years later this happened,” he said. “I was given 18 months and spent six months in prison. Then I had a tag.

“In prison you are in a room with one other person. You don’t know what they’ve done.

“You cry, you cannot get to sleep. You ring home and everyone at home is crying.

“Afterwards you can’t work because of the CRB check. And, of course, nobody listens in prison. Because in prison everyone in innocent.”

The best videos delivered daily

Watch the stories that matter, right from your inbox