Official hearing page

25 February 2022 – Tracy Felstead, Seema Misra and Janet Skinner

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(10.15 am)

(Proceedings delayed)

(10.19 am)

Mr Stein: Sir, as you are aware, the next witness to give evidence was going to be Stephanie Reilly.

Sir Wyn Williams: Yes.

Mr Stein: She has found the prospect of doing so simply too much so, with your leave, sir, I will be reading this morning a summary of her evidence.

Sir Wyn Williams: Yes, please do that now. STEPHANIE REILLY, statement summarised by MR STEIN, QC

Mr Stein: So this is a summary of the statement of Ms Stephanie Reilly.

Stephanie has been a hard-working woman since the age of 16. Stephanie became the postmistress of the Post Office in Hetton-le-Hole, which is in Sunderland, on 27 November 2009.

Stephanie had problems with the Horizon system from the word go. She would call the helpline two or three times a week about shortfalls and balancing. On occasions, the shortfall would increase as a result of the advice from the helpline.

Stephanie estimates that she paid or the Post Office deducted in excess of £15,000 to £20,000 in relation to alleged shortfalls. Stephanie says:

“There was not a month that went by where I was not putting money in.”

Stephanie asked repeatedly for assistance from the Post Office. None was forthcoming and her area manager said it would be like looking for a needle in a haystack. Stephanie felt bullied and intimidated by her area manager. She was made to cry in front of customers.

Stephanie requested a further audit and asked Dave Brown, an auditor, if they could audit some historical documents relating to her branch. Stephanie was told that the Post Office records did not go back that far.

Mr Brown and Stephanie found a transaction that seemed like a duplication and needed to be reversed back to Chesterfield. Stephanie was very happy as she thought that if this duplication had been found, then she would find the rest. However, the following day Ms Lax dismissed the duplication over the phone and told Stephanie that the money had obviously been stolen and that Mr Brown had not said to her that there was a duplication. Ms Lax told Stephanie that the money had to be paid back or the Post Office would start legal proceedings against her.

Stephanie agreed to the Post Office taking £800 a month out of her wages as she was scared of being prosecuted.

Stephanie had to borrow money off her husband to keep the Post Office afloat. Paying £800 a month for nearly a year nearly broke Stephanie financially and emotionally. Stephanie says:

“I should not have had to beg for help from the Post Office. It was easy for them to say it was my fault and that I should deal with it.”

Eventually, Stephanie had a breakdown and turned to alcohol to cope with the losses.

As the shortfalls got larger, the more Stephanie turned to drink. She had to hire a manager at her own expense to run the Post Office on her behalf as she no longer felt able to carry out her role.

Stephanie went to rehab for eight months and when she came out of rehab she was terrified to run the Post Office. It took Stephanie 12 months after rehab to walk back through the Post Office door because she had lost all confidence in herself and was frightened the shortfalls would happen again.

Stephanie feels deeply aggrieved, not just at her losses but for the manner in which she was treated by the Post Office, effectively as a thief. She asked for help and the Post Office would not give it.

Stephanie feels she was pushed to one side by the Post Office and that the Post Office’s attitude was “You owe us that money, get it paid”, regardless of the consequences.

Stephanie says he lost everything about her. She lost her identity and her confidence. Stephanie is now financially out of pocket and her marital home was repossessed. Stephanie’s mental health deteriorated rapidly. She was given antidepressants by her GP but they did not work. Stephanie’s customers talked about her. There was gossip around the local community and the phrase “plunkie”, a local term for alcoholic, was used by the community about her.

Stephanie’s son begged her to stop drinking. She had to spend eight months away from her son while she was in rehab, which is time she’ll never get back. Stephanie’s 22-year marriage broke up as her husband blamed her, as he said it was obviously her causing the Post Office shortfalls.

Stephanie’s Mum aged overnight because she was worried about her daughter, due to her alcoholism and problems she was experiencing with the Post Office.

Stephanie said in her statement:

“I loved the Post Office job, dealing with customers, getting to know them all. That is what gets us postmasters through. We postmasters do it because we love it and dealing with community.”

Sir, Stephanie has asked in addition that I read the following comments to you.

“Dear Chair,

“Please accept my apologies for not attending today. Like everyone else who has attended and is to attend, I wanted to personally speak about my awful experience to both you and the Inquiry team.

“Unfortunately, on Wednesday morning at 6.00 am I had what I can only describe as a complete meltdown. The fear and anxiety of reliving everything again hit me square on and brought me to my knees. As my evidence states, due to the problems I had with the Post Office and the Horizon system, I ended up in rehab for alcohol addiction.

“For six years, I fought a daily battle to remain in recovery but the thought of reliving this experience was too much to bear. In working with my recovery programme, I am aware of my limitations and had to make the decision to stay in what I can only describe as my ‘safe zone’, and to remove myself from the situation.

“My main focus in giving evidence to the Inquiry was to highlight the injustice that was brought upon us by those at Post Office and to ask if we, the 555 litigants, will ever receive the money back that was stolen from us and ever see the day where justice is served.

“I again apologise for not having the strength to attend but I hope myself and others who have suffered horrifically at the hands of Post Office are dealt with with the compassion and empathy we truly deserve.”

Sir Wyn Williams: Thank you, Mr Stein.

Mr Beer: Good morning, sir, can I call Tracy Felstead, please.

Tracy Felstead

TRACY FELSTEAD (affirmed).

Questioned by Mr Beer

Mr Beer: Good morning, Ms Felstead?

Tracy Felstead: Good morning.

Mr Beer: If you keep your voice up, you’ll see that sometimes the microphones really do pick up what you say and broadcast it around the room, so just use that as your test to make sure you are being heard, okay?

Tracy Felstead: Okay, thank you.

Mr Beer: Can you give us your full name, please?

Tracy Felstead: Yes, Ms Tracy Ann Margaret Felstead.

Mr Beer: How old are you now?

Tracy Felstead: I’m 39 years old.

Mr Beer: I think you have got some children, is that right?

Tracy Felstead: I do, I have three boys.

Mr Beer: How old are they?

Tracy Felstead: One’s nearly 18, one’s 15 and one’s 11.

Mr Beer: On the table in front of you, there should be a witness statement.

Tracy Felstead: Yes.

Mr Beer: Is that right?

Tracy Felstead: Yes.

Mr Beer: Is it in your name?

Tracy Felstead: Yes.

Mr Beer: Is it dated 15 February at the top?

Tracy Felstead: Yes, it is.

Mr Beer: If you go to the last page, can you see your signature, an electronic signature I think?

Tracy Felstead: Yes.

Mr Beer: Is that your electronic signature, and when you made the statement were the contents of it true to the best of your knowledge and belief?

Tracy Felstead: Yes.

Mr Beer: I am going to ask you some questions about before you joined the Post Office?

Tracy Felstead: Yes.

Mr Beer: What did you do before you joined the Post Office?

Tracy Felstead: I went to school.

Mr Beer: So what age did you leave school?

Tracy Felstead: I left school at 16 and then I stayed at home for a bit with my parents and then I moved to London – back to London with family. I didn’t like the area that I lived in with my parents. I was up north. So I moved back to London with family and, yeah, then I got a job at the Post Office.

Mr Beer: Okay. Which Post Office did you get a job at?

Tracy Felstead: Camberwell Green.

Mr Beer: What kind of Post Office was that?

Tracy Felstead: It was a Crown branch.

Mr Beer: Just explain, to those of us that are not completely all over the detail, what a Crown branch is?

Tracy Felstead: So there were a number of counters. It was run by a manager and the manager had a number of staff under her.

Mr Beer: Okay. How big was the Camberwell Green branch?

Tracy Felstead: It was quite big, fairly big. I think there were, from what I can remember, about 12 counters.

Mr Beer: A dozen desks, yes?

Tracy Felstead: Yes, there were quite a few.

Mr Beer: So how old were you when you first started working?

Tracy Felstead: I was 18.

Mr Beer: Your first job?

Tracy Felstead: It was my first job, yes.

Mr Beer: I think your formal title was counter clerk; is that right?

Tracy Felstead: Yes, that’s correct.

Mr Beer: So did you get any training from the Post Office before you became a counter clerk?

Tracy Felstead: I did. When I first started, I was in the back office first of all, just doing sort of dockets that got sent out and then I had a few days’ training with the Post Office to actually go on to the counter.

Mr Beer: Okay. Was that in branch training?

Tracy Felstead: No, it was at a different branch. From what I can remember, it was – I think I went to Herne Hill, so I actually went out to a different branch to do that training.

Mr Beer: Did that training include training in the use of the Horizon system?

Tracy Felstead: Yes, it did.

Mr Beer: How long did that last, the Horizon training?

Tracy Felstead: It was only a few days, to my knowledge.

Mr Beer: Can you remember how effective it was, the training?

Tracy Felstead: It wasn’t in-depth. It was general training on how to use the system and how to serve the public.

Mr Beer: Did it equip you to use the system and serve the public?

Tracy Felstead: Yes.

Mr Beer: So you went back to the branch and started working?

Tracy Felstead: Yes.

Mr Beer: What was that like? What was work like?

Tracy Felstead: Everybody seemed friendly. I was the youngest there, so I had – I kind of felt that everybody above me was, sort of, babying me, just, you know, looking after me, taking me under their wing. Everybody seemed nice. But it was quite relaxed. It wasn’t – there were a few things I’d noticed that I didn’t agree with, things that were happening but, other than that, it was fine.

Mr Beer: Did there come a time when you noticed some problems, some shortfalls?

Tracy Felstead: Yes. There were a few times where I’d notice some shortfalls where I’d had some shortfalls on my till. It was brought to my branch manager’s attention. At that stage, I was told to balance the till and then they would rectify themselves. And it was just – they were minor. They weren’t anything drastic.

Mr Beer: So how long after you started was the first shortfall that you noticed?

Tracy Felstead: Off the top of my head, I can’t honestly remember that from –

Mr Beer: Okay. So you joined in 2001; is that right?

Tracy Felstead: Yes. Yes, that would – no, two thousand … I can’t honestly remember the dates, no. The dates – I can’t remember the dates, off the top of my head.

Mr Beer: So you noticed shortfalls; were they very much money to start with?

Tracy Felstead: No, they were a few hundred pounds here and there. There wasn’t anything drastic until, obviously, we’d noticed – well, when I was away they noticed the large amounts.

Mr Beer: In an account that I think you’ve given to Mr Wallis that we see in his book, it said that one day you found yourself with a small deficit that your manager was not in the least bit concerned with.

Tracy Felstead: No, no, there was never any – there was never any concern by anybody. You were made to feel that, you know, it was okay, it will rectify itself.

Mr Beer: After that first shortfall, were there any more immediately or did things go back to normal?

Tracy Felstead: I can’t remember exactly how long it was but there were – there was a time when there were other shortfalls, whether it would be – it would show up in the stamps, it would show up in car tax, things like that. So there were a couple of times but, again, you approach your branch manager, you explain what the problem is, you’re told that it will be rectified.

Mr Beer: The book suggests that you noticed another spate of discrepancies with cash adding up at the end of the week to a £1,300 loss. Do you remember that incident?

Tracy Felstead: Yes. That was – again, I’d given it to the branch manager and actually told them, you know, said what had happened, spoke to them about it and they said it will rectify itself.

Mr Beer: It’s suggested that the branch manager took over the terminal when that happened.

Tracy Felstead: Yes.

Mr Beer: What do you – when you told Mr Wallis that, what did you mean by that, they “took over the terminal”?

Tracy Felstead: So, basically, the branch manager would go on under my name, under my number, and she would cash up the till.

Mr Beer: Did they do that on this occasion, the £1,300 incident?

Tracy Felstead: Yes.

Mr Beer: Did the £1,300 still show as a shortfall after she had taken over the terminal?

Tracy Felstead: No, the till then balanced.

Mr Beer: Sorry, it balanced, did it?

Tracy Felstead: (The witness nodded)

Mr Beer: So I think there came a time when a much larger shortfall was noticed, yes. Some £11,500-odd?

Tracy Felstead: Yes.

Mr Beer: Can you tell us what happened immediately before then. Were you in the branch or not?

Tracy Felstead: No, I was not.

Mr Beer: Where had you gone?

Tracy Felstead: I was on holiday with my family. I’d come back from holiday and I was immediately – the branch manager came to me and said there’d been a shortfall in my till that somebody else had used and that it needed to be rectified. I needed to have a look at it. So, as requested by the manager, I’d gone in and cashed that – cashed up the till to find that £11,503.28 discrepancy myself.

Mr Beer: So what was said to you was shown by your own work to be true, there was that discrepancy.

Tracy Felstead: Yes.

Mr Beer: What did you think when such a large sum of money was shown as missing?

Tracy Felstead: I was totally baffled. I couldn’t understand where that had come from, I couldn’t explain where that discrepancy was. Again, it was very relaxed, the branch manager said, you know “We’ll sort it out, it’s not a problem, we’ll find out”. And I was allowed to go back on the till to carry on. We had balanced the till and we carried on.

Mr Beer: But did a couple of weeks later something different happen to cause matters to take a different course?

Tracy Felstead: Yes.

Mr Beer: What was that?

Tracy Felstead: So I’d come into work and I’d been – again, I’d got everything out, ready to start the day. I’d been pulled to one side by the manager and said that somebody was coming in to interview me today about the discrepancy, which was absolutely fine. I had two guys come in and question me. They asked at the time whether I needed legal representation. I declined. I had nothing to hide and it kind of escalated from there.

Mr Beer: So these two guys, where were they from?

Tracy Felstead: They were the Post Office investigators.

Mr Beer: Were they local or did they come from –

Tracy Felstead: I can’t –

Mr Beer: You don’t know?

Tracy Felstead: I can’t honestly remember. I just – you know, I can’t remember that.

Mr Beer: What did they ask you and what did you say?

Tracy Felstead: They asked me where the money had gone, what I’d done with the money. Never at any stage was it, “What do you think has happened, was there any reason for this to happen?” It was very much I was being asked constantly what have I done with the money, “Where has the money gone?” I was being accused from day dot.

Mr Beer: What did you say?

Tracy Felstead: There wasn’t much I could say, apart from that I don’t know where the money’s gone, I don’t have the money. How do you explain something if you don’t understand it yourself?

Mr Beer: Did something else then happen involving the Post Office a little while after the interview with the two Post Office employees?

Tracy Felstead: Yes. So then I was put on leave. I was asked to leave the Post Office. I was suspended while there was further investigation, I was told, taking place. And then it was a few weeks after at – it was – I can’t even remember the time, really early in the morning. I was staying at my mother-in-law’s and the door – I wasn’t actually there but I had a call. I’d gone out early that day with some friends and the Post Office investigators were at my mother-in-law’s door with two police officers to take me to the local police station to interview me.

Mr Beer: Which was Peckham, I think, wasn’t it?

Tracy Felstead: Yes, Peckham police station, yes.

Mr Beer: Were you taken to Peckham police station?

Tracy Felstead: I wasn’t there at the time but I gladly went to Peckham police station of my own accord and, at this stage, I then asked for legal representation because, obviously, going to a police station is – you know, I thought “This is serious now”.

Mr Beer: It had escalated?

Tracy Felstead: It had, yes – very quickly.

Mr Beer: Can you remember – were you interviewed at the police station?

Tracy Felstead: I was.

Mr Beer: I don’t think you were arrested, were you?

Tracy Felstead: No, I weren’t, no.

Mr Beer: You were interviewed under caution voluntarily?

Tracy Felstead: Yes. I was interviewed. The police had nothing to do with this. I was interviewed by the same two investigating officers from the Post Office.

Mr Beer: By the same two, you mean the ones from a few weeks before?

Tracy Felstead: The ones from the previous interview, yes.

Mr Beer: What was the interview like?

Tracy Felstead: It was horrendous. The only way I can explain it is that I felt bullied. There was no – I was a young girl. I was in a police station. I couldn’t justify where this money had gone because I didn’t know where the money had gone. I couldn’t explain anything and I was just constantly being asked, “Did you pay for your family to go on holiday? What did you spend the money on?” And it just kept going and then, in the end, my solicitor said, “Just say ‘no comment’” because they’re not asking questions, they’re just interrogating me.

Mr Beer: When the Court of Appeal came to look at the matter all those years later in April 2021 in its judgment, the Court of Appeal records that your record of interview says that you were asked questions including, “Can you demonstrate how you did not steal the money?”

Tracy Felstead: Yes.

Mr Beer: Do you remember those kind of questions?

Tracy Felstead: Yes.

Mr Beer: You were asked whether you could satisfy the officers that you didn’t have responsibility for the £11,000 that was said to be missing?

Tracy Felstead: Yes.

Mr Beer: So you were being asked to prove how you had not committed a crime?

Tracy Felstead: Yes.

Mr Beer: Is that how the interview went?

Tracy Felstead: Yes, yes, very much so. They had access to my bank accounts. They had access to my home. They never, ever came to my home or searched my home but they looked through all the bank accounts. There was no money to find because there was no money there.

Mr Beer: You said they were interested in the holiday. That was, I think, your parent’s 15th wedding anniversary –

Tracy Felstead: Yes, it was.

Mr Beer: – and it was a family holiday to the Dominican Republic; is that right?

Tracy Felstead: Yes.

Mr Beer: But they asked you questions about that?

Tracy Felstead: They didn’t ask me questions. They accused me of paying for everybody to go, but that wasn’t correct. If they’d have looked into that, they would have seen that everybody paid their own – for their own holiday.

Mr Beer: Were you – did your suspension continue?

Tracy Felstead: Yes, and then I was sacked by the Post Office and then prosecuted.

Mr Beer: Can you remember the offences for which you were prosecuted?

Tracy Felstead: Yes, I can.

Mr Beer: What were they?

Tracy Felstead: Two counts of false accounting and theft.

Mr Beer: Did something happen when you were charged with those, concerning your health?

Tracy Felstead: Yes.

Mr Beer: Do you mind me asking about it?

Tracy Felstead: No, it’s fine.

Mr Beer: You tell us what happened.

Tracy Felstead: I tried to kill myself.

Mr Beer: Was that because you’d been charged with a criminal offence you hadn’t committed?

Tracy Felstead: Yes, it was. I couldn’t defend myself. I couldn’t explain what had happened.

Mr Beer: How many times did you try?

Tracy Felstead: Twice.

Mr Beer: Was that through taking overdoses?

Tracy Felstead: Yes, it was.

Mr Beer: You weren’t successful in your attempts.

Tracy Felstead: No.

Mr Beer: Was there a consequence of that, though, in terms of what care you had to receive?

Tracy Felstead: Yes, I wasn’t trusted by my family to be left alone. It had a huge impact on everything, to be fair. I missed – I’d missed a family – a really close family – sorry, a really close friend’s wedding. I had to go to the church and then, in the evening, if I hadn’t have gone to – my family had sectioned me.

Mr Beer: Were you admitted to a secure psychiatric facility?

Tracy Felstead: Yes, I was.

Mr Beer: Was that the unit at the Princess Royal Hospital in Bromley?

Tracy Felstead: Yes, it was.

Mr Beer: How long were you kept in the secure unit?

Tracy Felstead: I can’t remember. It was – I don’t know whether it was a few days or a week. I can’t honestly remember but it wasn’t pleasant.

Mr Beer: Were you given psychotherapy treatment?

Tracy Felstead: Yes, I was and a lot of medication.

Mr Beer: Before this, had you been on medication?

Tracy Felstead: I had been on medication for low mood, anxiety and just the whole general process that I’d gone through. But, yeah, the medication started to be upped.

Mr Beer: So that would be prescribed medication before the suicide attempts –

Tracy Felstead: Yes.

Mr Beer: – and then it was upped when you were in the secure facility?

Tracy Felstead: Yes.

Mr Beer: Did the treatment that you received, in particular the psychotherapy, eventually work, enough to get you out?

Tracy Felstead: Yes, enough to get me home but, again, I was – you know, my family watched but we were still going through this cycle of prosecution from the Post Office at this stage.

Mr Beer: So you had to attend the Magistrates’ Court; is that right?

Tracy Felstead: Yes, I did.

Mr Beer: Did you plead guilty or not guilty?

Tracy Felstead: Not guilty.

Mr Beer: Was the case sent off to the Kingston Crown Court?

Tracy Felstead: Yes, it was.

Mr Beer: What happened at the trial?

Tracy Felstead: At the trial I tried to defend myself, as much as I possibly could. It was very much from day 1 that the Post Office were adamant that I’d taken the money and there was no – you weren’t given an opportunity to explain or even try and explain how something could have gone wrong or – you just had no idea.

I remember, actually, since our convictions were overturned last year, a forensic accountant actually got in touch, who was actually hired at my trial to come to give a forensic account of my case at the court. He was never called up but he came forward last year to say that, actually, when – he had some disquiet about my case at that time. He sat in a room with Fujitsu and the Post Office and had asked for certain documentation to be provided. He was then told that that would cost £20,000 around about.

Mr Beer: It would cost who £20,000?

Tracy Felstead: It would cost us, me, my legal team, £20,000 to get that documentation. We would have to pay the Post Office and Fujitsu to get that documentation and that wasn’t possible. That only came to light to me – that was only brought to my attention last year when Mr Turner came forward.

Mr Beer: What was his full name?

Tracy Felstead: Michael Turner.

Mr Beer: Can you remember why he wasn’t called at your trial?

Tracy Felstead: No. He said that he was very surprised when he heard that – from the evidence that was submitted that I’d been found guilty.

Mr Beer: What was your defence?

Tracy Felstead: There wasn’t much of a defence. I didn’t steal the money. It was – how can you prove that, you know, that you haven’t stolen anything but, at the same time, I hadn’t been investigated as to where there was any money. No money was found.

Mr Beer: At that stage, was there any examination of the way the Horizon system worked in the course of your trial?

Tracy Felstead: No.

Mr Beer: Did you know, at that stage, that there was a potential issue with the reliability of how the Horizon system worked?

Tracy Felstead: No.

Mr Beer: Was there any evidence called about how the Horizon system worked, in your trial?

Tracy Felstead: No.

Mr Beer: I think you were found guilty by a majority?

Tracy Felstead: Yes.

Mr Beer: Were you sentenced immediately or was it put off to another day?

Tracy Felstead: No, I was allowed home and I was to be sentenced after a psychiatric report.

Mr Beer: Was a psychiatric report or reports prepared?

Tracy Felstead: It hadn’t been prepared. We went to the Magistrates’ Court for sentencing and the judge then asked again for that to be done.

Mr Beer: To the Crown Court or the Magistrates’ Court?

Tracy Felstead: It was Guildford Magistrates’ Court, I think it was, for sentencing and then two weeks later we had to go back again.

Mr Beer: Okay.

Tracy Felstead: And that’s when I was sentenced.

Mr Beer: Did you know that you were going to be sent to prison?

Tracy Felstead: I had an idea. I was told by my legal team that it was a possibility but, at the same time, my family had been told that if they were to pay the £11,500 back to the Post Office that I wouldn’t get a custodial sentence.

Mr Beer: So what happened in the period between being convicted and sentenced, so far as the £11,500 was concerned?

Tracy Felstead: So my family paid the £11,500 and it was – we’re not from a family of money, so it was paid from a number of family members clubbing together.

Mr Beer: Did that include your, I think then, fiancé?

Tracy Felstead: Yes. Not my fiancé, it was my mother-in-law.

Mr Beer: Ah, I see.

Tracy Felstead: My grandmother, my uncle, my parents had to club together to get the £11,500 to pay the Post Office, which they paid, which I was really angry about.

Mr Beer: Why were you angry?

Tracy Felstead: Because I hadn’t stolen any money so why am I paying for something that I haven’t stolen?

Mr Beer: They paid the money and it was handed over to the Post Office and accepted?

Tracy Felstead: It was. And then the day of sentencing, the judge accused me of stealing from old age pensioners.

Mr Beer: Was this in the judge’s sentencing remarks?

Tracy Felstead: Yes, yes. I’d stolen from old age pensioners and that, because I showed no remorse, I wouldn’t say sorry, I was sentenced to six months in prison.

Mr Beer: Were you asked to apologise?

Tracy Felstead: Yes, and I refused to apologise for something I hadn’t done.

Mr Beer: Were you escorted from court in handcuffs?

Tracy Felstead: I was.

Mr Beer: Where were you taken?

Tracy Felstead: I was taken down to the holding cells and I was actually placed in a room downstairs and then I was allowed to see my barrister – that was it – who brought a note down from my family, and then I was taken to Holloway prison.

Mr Beer: This may sound like a really odd question: what was Holloway prison like?

Tracy Felstead: Your worst nightmare. It was horrible. It wasn’t a place for a young girl.

Mr Beer: Just remind us how old you were?

Tracy Felstead: 19. I was a teenager.

Mr Beer: Why was it horrible?

Tracy Felstead: Because I shouldn’t have been there. I hadn’t done anything wrong. There were things that I saw, I experienced, that nobody should go through.

Mr Beer: One of your duties was to deliver hot drinks around the wings; is that right?

Tracy Felstead: Yes.

Mr Beer: Was there an occasion where you saw something particularly horrific?

Tracy Felstead: Yes, there was. I saw a young girl hanging in the cell.

Mr Beer: Again, this may seem like a really odd question, but how did the experience of, I think, three months in Holloway, you spent in the end, affect your mental health?

Tracy Felstead: It hasn’t stopped. I have intense therapy to try and get over what I’ve been through, to deal with the stresses, the feelings, the flashbacks, the dreams, the nightmares.

Mr Beer: In the 20-odd years since your release, has it continued, i.e. being accused of a crime, convicted of a crime that you didn’t commit and being sent to prison for six months continue to affect your mental health?

Tracy Felstead: Yes, it has, and I think it will always affect me.

Mr Beer: Can you help us about any other affects it had on you? Did there come a time when you moved house?

Tracy Felstead: I moved when my first son was born. I’d not – well, I’d come out of prison and my son had been – I couldn’t get a job and then I’d got a job.

Mr Beer: Just stop there. Sorry to interrupt your flow.

Tracy Felstead: It’s okay.

Mr Beer: Did the conviction that you had, for offences of dishonesty, affect your ability to get a job?

Tracy Felstead: Yes, definitely.

Mr Beer: Again, it’s really obvious, but why?

Tracy Felstead: Yeah, no, I used to have to sign on. I used to – obviously, when I came out of Holloway I was on tag for three months, so I had a large tag round my ankle.

Mr Beer: You had an ankle bracelet for an electronic tag?

Tracy Felstead: Yes, I did, and I was on a curfew from 7.00 ‘til 7.00, so I was allowed up from 7.00 in the morning until 7.00 in the evening. But when I went to sign on – because I had no job, I’d just come out of prison, nobody wants to employ you. You’ve got a criminal record and you’ve got a tag on your leg. You’ve been accused of false accounting and theft. Nobody wants to employ you.

Mr Beer: So did you struggle to get employment?

Tracy Felstead: I did, when I first came out. And then I found that every time I went for a job I had to explain why I had a criminal record and what this was doing on here and every time I had to explain my side of the story.

Mr Beer: Were you still saying you were innocent?

Tracy Felstead: Yes, because I was innocent. And if the people got to know me and take a chance on me, then they would know the kind of person that I am, and quite a few people did. There were companies that didn’t and turned me away but there were companies that did believe what I was saying and actually look at it and think, “This girl hasn’t done anything, how could she possibly?”

Mr Beer: Did you get work eventually?

Tracy Felstead: Eventually, but it still – it was still the stigma of having a criminal record and people knew. So then you are anxious of stuff that you do, I worked in a shop. I worked in Mothercare. I used to have a weekend job in Mothercare when the children were growing up, but I would never cash up the till because I was afraid. I would never – and if I had to cash up the till, I’d make sure that somebody was stood there with me to check what I was doing and to double-check that, you know, nothing was wrong, because I was so paranoid and scared that something would go wrong and I couldn’t feel like that again. I couldn’t be put through that again.

Mr Beer: I’ve taken you down a little side route. We were talking about moving house.

Tracy Felstead: Yes.

Mr Beer: Why did you move house?

Tracy Felstead: I moved house to get away from the stigma and just people knowing, people being horrible. I just wanted a fresh start where nobody knew me.

Mr Beer: Where did you move?

Tracy Felstead: I moved to Buckinghamshire with my fiancé, at the time, and my first-born son, and nobody knew. Nobody knew what I’d been through. Nobody knew that I’d been to prison. I never divulged anything to anybody.

Mr Beer: So did you live in Buckinghamshire a life that was largely free of what had happened back in London?

Tracy Felstead: For a bit.

Mr Beer: Then what happened?

Tracy Felstead: And then I went on holiday with my family and I remember my Dad phoning me one night saying, “You need to investigate this, I’ve just seen something on the TV with Lord Arbuthnot saying that, you know, there’s a problem with the Post Office system”.

At that stage, I was abroad, and I remember getting up in the morning and we had no Wi-fi access where we were, so we literally went and got Wi-fi access in a local – near a local café to investigate this and then, from then on, it came to light that from when we were told before that, you know, “This doesn’t happen all the time in the Post Office, you’ve stolen the money”, actually, a lot of people had come forward and you weren’t the only one.

Mr Beer: Was that the first time that you knew about other people having problems with the Post Office in this way?

Tracy Felstead: It was the first time that I knew that other people had been accused of a crime they hadn’t committed by the same company.

Mr Beer: So what did you do as a result?

Tracy Felstead: At that stage, when I got home, the first thing I did was I got in touch with my previous solicitors that I had at the time of my trial, trying to get any documentation that I possibly could from them, which I found very difficult because it had been so long.

Mr Beer: Can you remember when this was, roughly?

Tracy Felstead: Maybe 2014/2015.

Mr Beer: Okay.

Tracy Felstead: And then that’s when I found out that there was a group, the JFSA, and, obviously, then I joined the group and went along to the meetings and it escalated from there.

Mr Beer: What did you do with the JFSA?

Tracy Felstead: With the JFSA we had meetings, I spoke. You know, I was really surprised at the time of how many people had been through the same thing. Our stories were very, very similar, the process of how things were done was very, very similar and then, at that stage, I then obviously knew that there was going to be – you know, that I had to – well, at that stage, I had to tell my children, because I had post coming through the door from JFSA, post coming through from the mediation scheme, that I’d obviously been – well, I’d asked to be part of and –

Mr Beer: Just hold that thought, I’m going to come back to the mediation scheme in a moment.

You said that you had to tell your children. Do I take from that that you hadn’t told them that –

Tracy Felstead: I hadn’t told anybody where I lived. Nobody knew. I got worried that my children would go to school and that they would be picked on that, you know, their Mum was classed as a criminal, that I had a criminal record and I’d been to prison.

So I made sure that it came from me. I had to tell them. I didn’t want anybody else to tell them what had happened.

Mr Beer: Back to the mediation scheme. Tell us about how that came about.

Tracy Felstead: So I don’t really remember too much about the mediation scheme, apart from that I’d put the application through to go through the mediation scheme and then I received a letter back from Sir Anthony Hooper to say that my case wasn’t being taken through, through the mediation scheme.

Mr Beer: Did he explain why?

Tracy Felstead: I don’t remember. I may have the letter somewhere or my solicitors may have the letter but I can’t honestly remember why but it just said that it wasn’t – my case wasn’t – had been rejected for the mediation scheme.

Mr Beer: In Mr Wallis’s book it describes this as feeling like a yet further insult.

Tracy Felstead: Definitely. I just didn’t know how – the only way to explain it is you just don’t know how to defend yourself. How can you – you know, you’re trying to everything. Still, to that day, I was still pleading my innocence but it – to me, it just seemed like the mediation scheme was pointless and they weren’t going to listen to anybody.

Mr Beer: Did this have any effect on your health, i.e. this new incident?

Tracy Felstead: Yes. Obviously, I’d learnt to, kind of, bury everything and live with the fact that I had a criminal record, which in an area that I lived in nobody knew at the time.

Mr Beer: So like suppression?

Tracy Felstead: Yes, literally, I just buried everything, feelings. I never spoke about prison, I never spoke about anything. So this was opening a can of worms. For me, it was opening up all those feelings and those memories again.

Mr Beer: Did it cause a deterioration in your mental health again?

Tracy Felstead: Yes, it did. I was back on tablets. And then I’d got married in 2008 and then 2015 I got divorced and that – I’m not saying that that – wholly that the Post Office are to blame for that, because they’re not, but it had an impact on my mental health and the way I saw things and the way I reacted. It had an impact on my marriage then.

Mr Beer: Winding forwards to 2021, your conviction was quashed by the Court of Appeal on two grounds. Looking back over that 20-year period between conviction, which I think was in 2002, to April 2021, that nearly 20-year period of your life, what was it like to live it?

Tracy Felstead: It was horrible. In the space of 20 minutes I had three judges saying that 20 years of my life, basically, was erased. It was for nothing. I’d gone through everything for nothing. I was a child.

Mr Beer: What would you like to happen now?

Tracy Felstead: I’d like for somebody to be helped accountable. It’s not just one person. There’s not just one person that knew what was going on here. Somebody needs to be held accountable. I want them to sit here and feel what we feel. We’re having to do this again. We’re having to tell our stories, over and over.

Do they have children? How would they feel if it was their daughter? My 15-year old son said to me last week that he’s glad that he doesn’t have the same surname as me. He sits in school and, you know, he hears people talking, he sees stuff in his school, they have TVs that project the news. He’s happy that he doesn’t have the same surname as me.

Mr Beer: Ms Felstead, I’ve asked you lots of questions. Is there anything that you want to say to the Chair of the Inquiry that we haven’t looked at, so far?

Tracy Felstead: No. We just need answers, just so we can move on with our lives.

Mr Beer: Thank you very much for giving your evidence to the Chair today.

Sir, I don’t know whether you have any questions of Ms Felstead?

Sir Wyn Williams: No, I don’t have any questions, Ms Felstead, but I just do want to say one or two things to you.

As is obvious, you are one of the people whose story is perhaps better known than some of your colleagues and it might, therefore, have been tempting for you to say, “Well, people know about me, I don’t want to engage with this Inquiry”. But I’m so grateful that you have. To hear it directly from you is extremely important; so thank you.

Tracy Felstead: Thank you.

Mr Beer: Sir, thank you. I wonder whether we might take a ten-minute break now, just whilst we reorganise and get Ms Misra ready to give evidence.

Sir Wyn Williams: Of course.

Mr Beer: Thank you very much, sir.

(11.10 am)

(A short break)

(11.25 am)

Mr Beer: Sir, may I call Mrs Seema Misra, please.

Sir Wyn Williams: Yes, of course.

Seema Misra

SEEMA MISRA (affirmed).

Examined by Mr Beer

Mr Beer: Mrs Misra, can you please tell us your full name?

Seema Misra: Seema Misra.

Mr Beer: How old are you now?

Seema Misra: 46.

Mr Beer: I think in front of you there should be a witness statement in your name; is that right?

Seema Misra: Correct.

Mr Beer: Is it dated 17 February this year?

Seema Misra: It is, yes.

Mr Beer: If you look at the last page of it, do you see your signature?

Seema Misra: Yes.

Mr Beer: Are the contents of it true to the best of your knowledge and belief?

Seema Misra: Yes, yes they are.

Mr Beer: I think you are married; is that right?

Seema Misra: Yes.

Mr Beer: Is your husband with you today?

Seema Misra: Yes.

Mr Beer: What is your husband’s name?

Seema Misra: Davinder Misra.

Mr Beer: Do you have children?

Seema Misra: Two kids.

Mr Beer: How old are they?

Seema Misra: 21 and 10.

Mr Beer: Okay. I think there came a time when you joined the Post Office; is that right?

Seema Misra: (The witness nodded)

Mr Beer: Can you remember when that was?

Seema Misra: Yes, 2005.

Mr Beer: What did you do before you joined the Post Office?

Seema Misra: Since the year 2000, me and my husband been running various businesses, so we had a shop before, which was doing very well.

Mr Beer: Whereabouts was that shop?

Seema Misra: It was in Luton.

Mr Beer: In Caddington, I think, is that right? A village outside Luton?

Seema Misra: Correct, between Luton and Dunstable, yes.

Mr Beer: That wasn’t a Post Office?

Seema Misra: No, no, no, it was just a shop floor.

Mr Beer: So how did it come about that you started to work for the Post Office?

Seema Misra: Me and my husband always been business minded, so we had a shop, we done really well. It was like the first retail outlet we did and said, “Definitely, it’s a good business to be in” and we had quite a good equity in the business, we wanted to expand, like normally business people do.

So we were looking around for an opportunity to, you know – like, to expand for the bigger shop front and everything. So that’s how we came cross this West Byfleet shop and the Post Office opportunity.

Mr Beer: Can I just ask you to slow down.

Seema Misra: Yes.

Mr Beer: I know there’s a lot that you want to say and there’s a lot I want to ask you.

Seema Misra: Everybody says, yes. That’s fine.

Mr Beer: But, obviously, the Chairman is listening from Wales and somebody’s got to transcribe this afterwards?

Seema Misra: Sure.

Mr Beer: So best slow it down a bit.

So I think you said West Byfleet Post Office.

Seema Misra: Yes.

Mr Beer: Where’s West Byfleet?

Seema Misra: In Surrey.

Mr Beer: How did it come about that, you are, sort of, north of Watford one moment, in Luton, and now you’re looking in West Byfleet? How did that come about?

Seema Misra: We came from India and there it doesn’t matter where the opportunity is, so we moved. We lived in central London, then the opportunity came in Caddington, we moved there. Then we saw an opportunity in West Byfleet. It was advertised in one of the papers or something – I can’t remember. It was (unclear) we saw.

Mr Beer: What kind of Post Office was the West Byfleet Post Office?

Seema Misra: Very busy, three counter Post Office.

Mr Beer: Did it have a shop with it?

Seema Misra: Yes, massive shop, like a supermarket.

Mr Beer: Okay. When you took over the Post Office, what was your role in it?

Seema Misra: I was subpostmistress.

Mr Beer: So you were on the documents as the postmistress?

Seema Misra: Correct.

Mr Beer: What was your husband’s role?

Seema Misra: He’s managing shop.

Mr Beer: Who else worked in the branch?

Seema Misra: We had a staff, which we took over from the previous subpostmaster as well.

Mr Beer: How many staff were there?

Seema Misra: There were like one person and then we had employed two more.

Mr Beer: So three, other than you and Mr Misra?

Seema Misra: Correct, yes.

Mr Beer: Did you and your husband have to invest money in the business in order to take it over?

Seema Misra: Correct. We had a huge equity, I think it was about 109 or 107,000 from our previous business.

Mr Beer: The Caddington one?

Seema Misra: In Caddington one, which we invested into the West Byfleet. We had a house in London, which was a buy-to-let as well.

Mr Beer: You said you had a house in London. Did you invest some of the equity of that in the Post Office?

Seema Misra: No, no. Before coming to the Post Office, our portfolio for was very big, so we had a flat in London, which was buy-to-let, always been buy-to-let, we invested money in the Post Office and a shop, and no loans, no nothing.

Mr Beer: Did you have to take a mortgage out, as well?

Seema Misra: Yes.

Mr Beer: I think I read somewhere that there was a £67,000 mortgage?

Seema Misra: Correct, yes.

Mr Beer: So what was the total investment to take over the Post Office?

Seema Misra: It was well over 200. It was around about 200-something and then the stock on top. It was well over 200.

Mr Beer: By that, £200,000, you mean?

Seema Misra: Correct.

Mr Beer: What were the benefits, as you saw them, of taking over a post office?

Seema Misra: We saw the shop front, because me and Davinder always will be running shop before and we saw it’s a profitable business and we saw suddenly, like, yeah, definitely we can do quite a lot, take the takings up and everything. And the Post Office, being the centre of community, it was really good that, you know, it’s like serving community. We always believe in running charities and everything, and we saw “Wow, working for a Post Office, we’ll get chance to serve community”.

Mr Beer: I think there was a salary as well?

Seema Misra: It was, yes.

Mr Beer: £60,000, is that right?

Seema Misra: Yes, to start with. When I took over, it was just under 60,000, but then I took it up to nearly 80.

Mr Beer: Was that something, winding forward a number of years, that you lost?

Seema Misra: Yes.

Mr Beer: When you first started to work in the Post Office, was the Horizon system already in use?

Seema Misra: Yes, it was.

Mr Beer: Had you ever used Horizon before you arrived in 2005 at West Byfleet?

Seema Misra: No. In March 2005, I had a training and then in June I took over the Post Office. I did ask that I had my training in March and there’s, like, a gap. When you are buying and selling, there can be, like, delays so I did ask, “Is it okay because it’s three-month gap since I had my training and going into the branch”. They said, “No, no, it will be fine. You will have two trainers”.

Mr Beer: Okay. Where was the training?

Seema Misra: It was somewhere in London. It was, like – I can’t remember exactly but I was coming from Luton by train to London somewhere.

Mr Beer: So it wasn’t in the branch?

Seema Misra: It wasn’t in the branch, no.

Mr Beer: How long did that training last?

Seema Misra: It was two weeks. It was supposed to be two weeks, full day, but we normally used to finish by lunch.

Mr Beer: Did that relate to all aspects of running a post office?

Seema Misra: No, it was mostly cross-selling. So if somebody coming for, like, a DVLA, how can we promote the extra products and everything. If somebody did Recorded Delivery, how can we tell them the benefit of a Special Delivery and all that.

Mr Beer: Did the training include training on using the Horizon system?

Seema Misra: Probably just can’t remember. Probably, just the basic like the stamps and all that but, no, it wasn’t like a proper, proper one.

Mr Beer: Did you get any on-site training back at the Post Office after you took it over on Horizon?

Seema Misra: Yes. Not training, training – the trainer was there, so just watching us, what we do and everything, and all that.

Mr Beer: Did something happen when you were having that on-site training?

Seema Misra: Yes. Very first day, when – 29 June 2005, when I took over, that was the first day. But the first one in there I’m pretty sure was 30 June. And I had a trainer Janade was there.

Mr Beer: Who’s Janade?

Seema Misra: My trainer. He was there, he introduced himself before when we opened the Post Office, and running the counters, he was there. Everything was just standing behind and, in the evening, he like – he’s like, “We need to cash up”. I said, “Okay, that’s fine”. We cash up and we were around about, under £100, I think it was around about £80-something, under £100 short. And I say, like, “Why there’s a shortfall?” And his exact wording, “Oh, you just had an audit yesterday, it’s never penny to penny”.

And I was thinking, I had experience of running a shop, I worked in city and I said, “Why wouldn’t be penny to penny?” And he said, “Now you have to make sure that tills are good.” So he said, like, I now have to put my own money from the shopfloor or from own personal money back into the Post Office till, which I did.

Mr Beer: So had the trainer been watching you conduct transactions?

Seema Misra: Yes.

Mr Beer: Despite that, there was a shortfall being shown?

Seema Misra: Yes.

Mr Beer: So what was done about that?

Seema Misra: So I went to the shopfloor. I got cash from the till and put it in the Post Office till.

Mr Beer: So you made it up from money from the shop side?

Seema Misra: Yes.

Mr Beer: What did the trainer say about that?

Seema Misra: Nothing. He said to me – it was – his excuse was, like, “After audit, it’s never penny to penny”. That was his excuse.

Mr Beer: Did there come a time when the trainer rang the helpline?

Seema Misra: Yes. So the first week trainer, he was – he was there but, like, when the shortfalls were there and everything he said, “Oh, and on Wednesday when you do rollover, it will balance up”. And on Wednesday when I do rollover, I have to put again money from the shop counter and he was just gone, nothing – nothing said.

But then when the next trainer came, Michael, the second week, and he asked me, “Congratulations, how is it going and everything”? I said – you know, I told him what had been happening from the first day until the balancing. He was concerned. He said, “Oh that shouldn’t happen”. He was concerned. He said, “Let’s see how it goes”.

He was there, like Janade, but he was paying more attention to each and every transaction we do and everything and on Wednesday he was there with the balancing and all that, and there was a shortfall. It was in hundreds – I think a couple of hundred pounds. He called the helpline said he had been here whole week watching each and every transaction, me doing it correctly, but still there’s a shortfall. So the helpline asked him to do some procedure on the system and the figure doubled up.

Mr Beer: Just tell us that last bit again. He was getting some instructions down the phoneline from the helpline?

Seema Misra: Correct.

Mr Beer: They said to do something with the system?

Seema Misra: Correct.

Mr Beer: And that caused the shortfall to double?

Seema Misra: Double.

Mr Beer: So what happened with the doubled shortfall?

Seema Misra: Nothing. He said, like, you know, “Just keep an eye”. I can’t remember exactly how was it dealt with but he said, “Keep an eye, if there’s any issues there’s a helpline number, call them up”. But he was shocked. He said “I can’t” – I ask him can he stay over another week or something. He said he can’t, he’s supposed to here for one week only.

Mr Beer: So after that, did the shortfalls continue?

Seema Misra: It continued and I’ve been told by the helpline that, you know, “Maybe transaction error correction will come up, then you can take your money out”. But, in the meantime, it’s my responsibility to make sure tills are good, meant that they should balance.

Mr Beer: Just winding forwards, we know that you were taken to court.

Seema Misra: Correct.

Mr Beer: Can you remember whether there were any documents available about what you just described, i.e. two trainers coming in for a week each, watching you work, as you said, each and every transaction, and there still being shortfalls, and then a second trainer, Michael, doing something by reference to the helpline and it causing the shortfall to double?

Seema Misra: During my trial 2010, Post Office denied that Michael ever been to my Post Office. They couldn’t find Tamiko Springer, my branch manager, area manager, she couldn’t get hold – because I’d been telling her that I’m having shortfalls. They couldn’t get hold of any of them. Michael, they completely denied but, later on, I think it was 2013 or 2014, we found out from my Post Office internal memo that Michael had been to my Post Office.

Mr Beer: You mention in your statement something which you called a “so-called audit”.

Seema Misra: Yes.

Mr Beer: Why do you call it a “so-called audit”?

Seema Misra: It’s just – I don’t know, they’re like – if I take you back in 2005, when I was screaming for help, within a couple of months, I told my area manager I can’t run Post Office like that. I say, “I’m losing money. I bought a business to make money not to lose money”. And she said – that’s Tamiko Springer, I’m speaking about – and she said, “Okay, let me speak to my manager, Angela”.

And then she came back, same day she came back, told me, “Okay, we’ll get the audit done”. I said, “Do whatever needs doing but I want to get this sorted”. They said, “Okay”.

I asked them when they will be coming. They said, “We can’t tell any dates because it’s going to be surprise”, and then after – I think, within a matter of weeks or something, auditor came in. I was so happy, I welcomed them in. One of them said, “Oh wow, you’re very happy to see auditors”. I said, “Yeah, you know, I want to get this thing sorted”. They made – they said – they done the audit and they made another shortfall. Despite of me putting in money regularly, they made a shortfall of around just under £4,000.

Mr Beer: Just hold that thought.

Seema Misra: Yes.

Mr Beer: Winding back, had there been continuous shortfalls from the beginning until now?

Seema Misra: Correct.

Mr Beer: Had you been making up the money from takings in the shop?

Seema Misra: Yes.

Mr Beer: Yes, go back to where you were: the audit that was going to be a surprise and you welcomed it.

Seema Misra: Yes, I welcomed them in and I was so happy that it will be all sorted and everything. They were done in a good couple of hours and they told me there’s a shortfall of – I don’t know the exact figure but it was just under £4,000 and they asked me how I’m going to pay that. I said, “I want to know where the money’s going. Why are we losing money?” And he said, “I need to make a phone call”.

Then he made a phone called to Elaine Ridge, my area contract manager, and she said, “Oh, well, thankfully they agreed to take this time” – they agreed to take it out of my salary. But any – they’re like – how I describe them, they’re like – it’s a “so-called audit”. They call them like auditor but like a bouncer, you see them. They’re like very big. I’m tall as well. They’re like bigger than – they look down on you big, and they gave – he gave me warning, that particular auditor gave me warning. He said, “Mrs Misra, any time you are £500 short, we’ll take the Post Office away”. And that was it.

Mr Beer: Did they take money from your salary?

Seema Misra: They did, yes. So, technically, I was still under six months of my probation period, so paying money in and then they deduct money from my salary as well.

Mr Beer: Did this continue, either deductions or you making up the balance?

Seema Misra: Yes. They were like – there are hardly any transaction correction came in my favour. The rest they were like against me. Even like later on, there was a £20,000 for the National Lottery, and all that as well. They took it out of my salary.

Mr Beer: Did there come a time when you were accused of stealing £74,000-odd?

Seema Misra: Yes. 80,000 actually.

Mr Beer: Oh, okay?

Seema Misra: It was 14 January when the auditor came in.

Mr Beer: So that’s not the figure that ended up on the indictment, is it?

Seema Misra: No, it was – the day I was told, it’s 80,000.

Mr Beer: So tell us about that in January.

Seema Misra: So the auditor came in, I told them there will be a shortfall, they asked me to write it down and they did the audit. They said, “There’s a shortfall”. They called somebody else as well, investigation team, I think they called as well. They interviewed me. They asked me if I want anybody here. I say, like, “I’ve got nothing to hide, so it will be all sorted I haven’t done anything, so it will be all fine”. So they took me, interviewed me, the figure they have been saying, 80,000.

In the meantime, they asked me if it’s okay for a locum to come over and run the Post Office. I said, “Yes, please because, otherwise” – it’s not village, village, but not town either, West Byfleet, so – “otherwise, like the pensioners will have to go to the next town to get to the money and all that. So locum can come and run that’s perfectly fine”.

When we came down – so basically we have around about 3,000 square foot shop, and then a three-counter Post Office in the end, and the same space on the first floor as well. So they interviewed me on the first floor. When we came down, they said to me, “Mrs Misra, congratulations, the locum just took over the Post Office and he’s £2,000 over”. And I said to locum, “Can you please find the rest of the money as well”. So from there, 80 to 78, for how come it gone to 74?

Mr Beer: You don’t know?

Seema Misra: I don’t know.

Mr Beer: When you were interviewed under caution, did you try to explain what had happened?

Seema Misra: Yes, that time it’s just like they made me – after my first audit and after going through the individual tills and everything, they made me feel – Elaine Ridge was the one who told me, “Mrs Misra” – there’s some wording they have like they’re hounding you like that. “Mrs Misra, we have so many other Post Office, they are doing fine. It’s just your Post Office we’re having issue with”.

They made me feel that I’m the dumbest person, I don’t know how to add one plus one, and my confidence was like rock bottom. In the meantime, we caught some staff stealing money, we got rid of them, but still there was, like, money missing, and all that. I did tell them about the staff but I said, “I haven’t taken a single penny”. I told them, “I haven’t taken a single penny”.

Mr Beer: So in your interview, did you say that one explanation for the losses that you were being shown was staff theft?

Seema Misra: Correct.

Mr Beer: In interview, did you make any admissions yourself? Did you admit to falsifying the figures for the cash on hand and currency awaiting collection?

Seema Misra: Yes, definitely, because I was in complete mess. I didn’t know what to do. So there came the point I wasn’t even looking how much figure they should have. If system said you should have X amount of money, I said yes, we have; x amount of stock, yes, we have. And the false accounting, they picked up – they opened the folder, “So you’re trying to say this figure on that day wasn’t correct?” I said “Yeah, it’s not correct”, not even knowing the date, and all that.

They said, “Okay, this figure?” They just picked figures up and yes, I said “Yes, that’s not correct”.

Mr Beer: So you made some admissions in interview?

Seema Misra: Correct, yes.

Mr Beer: Were you eventually charged with an offence of theft and six offences of false accounting?

Seema Misra: Yes, in December 2008.

Mr Beer: I think you pleaded guilty to the false accounting charges?

Seema Misra: Yes, because I knew the money is not there but I still accept it, so if you call false accounting, yes, I did.

Mr Beer: Was a plea bargain ever discussed with you?

Seema Misra: No, plea bargain. But if I can take you a little bit back to the –

Mr Beer: Yes, please do.

Seema Misra: – you know, when the auditor came in. They ask me if I want anybody here. I said no, I trusted them, they will sort it out. And then they took all the bank details, and then they did the home search. They said, “Is it okay if we can search your home?” and all that. I said, “Yes, go ahead. I’ve got nothing to hide”.

So they went over. There were quite a few people, I can’t even remember the number of people, but there were quite a few. They went through the kid’s cupboard, moved the fridge everywhere there, they’ve been through the house and they searched. Later on, I realised they weren’t supposed to because they didn’t have any warrant or anything, but I was naive that I’ve got nothing to hide so why should I stop them, and all that.

I gave them all the bank details, they enquired the property in London. I told them the property was bought in 2000, just day before my elder son was born, so five years before we even took over the Post Office but “These are the documents, just take them”.

There wasn’t plea bargain but my first solicitor said to me “Plead guilty, plead guilty so you can have a lesser sentence”.

Mr Beer: Plead guilty, what, to the theft and the false accounting?

Seema Misra: Correct, yes.

Mr Beer: But you didn’t plead guilty to the theft?

Seema Misra: No. Like, why I should I plead guilty for a crime which I haven’t done it?

Mr Beer: Was it ever explained to you by your lawyers or anyone else why, in your case, the Post Office went ahead with the theft charge, even though you had pleaded guilty to the false accounting charge?

Seema Misra: Later on, not in 2010, but later on, in fact, yes, we did find some information.

Mr Beer: What was that information?

Seema Misra: They knew the week before my trial there’s an issue with the Horizon, which they withheld. They knew – the way I felt it, that they wanted to set an example to others, that if you try to raise caution on Horizon, this is what will happen to you.

Mr Beer: Can you remember finding out anything subsequently about the availability of confiscation orders for theft charges but not for false accounting charges as a motivation for proceeding with a theft charge? Or am I stretching your memory?

Seema Misra: A little bit.

Mr Beer: If you don’t remember that, it’s all right. We can deal with that with other witnesses on another occasion. The fact is they went ahead with the theft charges?

Seema Misra: Yes.

Mr Beer: Winding back to when you were operating the Horizon system, did you ever think that there was anything wrong with the system?

Seema Misra: Once the staff member mentioned that it happened with the previous subpostmaster and he got the system checked, so I did raise that issue with Tamiko Springer, my area manager.

Mr Beer: When it came to you being charged with these seven criminal offences, did you raise the issue of the reliability of the Horizon system with your lawyers?

Seema Misra: Not to start with, because I was under impression I’m the only one, so it must be I have done something wrong or my staff has done something wrong. Just when my previous barrister said to me “Plead guilty” and we refused, it was just the night before my first trial.

Mr Beer: I think that’s May 2009?

Seema Misra: Yes.

Mr Beer: The first trial, the one that got adjourned?

Seema Misra: Yes, just the night before my trial, they find out there are other people as well.

Mr Beer: So just tell the Chair about that. You’re listed for trial in May 2009, and you’re saying the night before the trial you found out that there were some other people who’d got an issue with the Horizon system?

Seema Misra: True. I remember that. It was just me, and then there was so – it’s just like how can a barrister be saying to plead guilty, so he doesn’t have a faith in us, how can he fight for us? I said, like, “I can’t be that mad that somebody ask me £10 I give them £1,000 or £10,000”. There must be, I don’t know, like how – was it God willing, or something, I went onto Google and said “Post Office cash issues”, or something, I don’t know what I typed, and then there came another – Jo Hamilton’s case, she done the witness already, and I remember calling – it was like a 118118, I was just so, “My God, so is there somebody else as well it happened”. I called her, got the number, luckily, it was late in the evening, she was still in the shop. So, after speaking to her, I was just, like – I said, “Please help me, please help me”.

Mr Beer: Did you apply through your lawyers at the commencement of the trial, which I think was at Guildford Crown Court, is that right –

Seema Misra: Correct, yes.

Mr Beer: – for an adjournment of the trial?

Seema Misra: Yes.

Mr Beer: Was that application successful?

Seema Misra: It was, yes.

Mr Beer: So the judge allowed an adjournment. Was that to allow the issue of the reliability – I’m calling it, for the moment – of the Horizon system to be examined?

Seema Misra: Correct.

Mr Beer: What happened after that? Was somebody instructed to act on your behalf to explore that issue?

Seema Misra: True.

Mr Beer: Who was that?

Seema Misra: Mr Charles – sorry, I can’t pronounce his surname.

Mr Beer: McLachlan?

Seema Misra: Correct.

Mr Beer: Correct. Was he a professor?

Seema Misra: Correct, yes.

Mr Beer: Do you remember what he was a professor in?

Seema Misra: IT. He’s like a very big – I remember, like qualifications, really, was going pages and pages.

Mr Beer: Okay. So he was instructed on your behalf?

Seema Misra: Yes.

Mr Beer: Were you kept up to speed with what was going on, with what he was doing?

Seema Misra: Yes, every time mostly we heard the trial date was adjourned because the Post Office didn’t supply the information, and all that. It was adjourned quite a few times because they were not supplying the information.

Mr Beer: I think, in the end, he produced six reports Professor McLachlan?

Seema Misra: He did, and there was still some issues need to be answered.

Mr Beer: So did there come a time when the case actually went to trial at Guildford Crown Court?

Seema Misra: Yes, on the day the trial actually began, there were still some issues outstanding. Then judge said – Gareth Jenkins from Fujitsu was there as well and so did Professor Charles was there as well. So he said, like, “It cannot drag on for longer”. So he gave them some time to go into the room so they can discuss with each other.

Mr Beer: Before the trial started, you mentioned that there were some disclosure issues?

Seema Misra: Correct.

Mr Beer: Can you remember what any of those were? If you can’t, it doesn’t matter because we know in the background what they were?

Seema Misra: I don’t know the exact wording but all I know like it will be if it hasn’t been produced, it won’t be a fair trial.

Mr Beer: So there was an application to stop the trial because documents hadn’t been produced, yes?

Seema Misra: True yeah, and every time we been adjourned, as well, quite a few times.

Mr Beer: But at your trial, the way that the Horizon system operated and its reliability was an issue?

Seema Misra: Correct.

Mr Beer: You have explained that they were there. Who did you understand Gareth Jenkins to be?

Seema Misra: Fujitsu expert.

Mr Beer: Did he give evidence?

Seema Misra: He did, yes.

Mr Beer: And Professor McLachlan?

Seema Misra: He did, yes, as well.

Mr Beer: What happened at the end of the trial?

Seema Misra: Jury came back with a verdict guilty.

Mr Beer: Did you give evidence in your own defence?

Seema Misra: I did give evidence as well. I did give evidence as well.

Mr Beer: Can you remember, roughly, what your defence was, in your own evidence, i.e. what you said had happened?

Seema Misra: Yes, exactly what I told them like from day one, there was issues and everything, and I’d been screaming for help.

Mr Beer: So you explain that there was some unexplained losses?

Seema Misra: Correct.

Mr Beer: I think you also mentioned that there were some staff thefts too?

Seema Misra: Correct.

Mr Beer: Your case additionally involved a full-scale attack – full-frontal attack on the reliability of the Horizon system?

Seema Misra: Correct.

Mr Beer: Presumably now, all these years on, you don’t remember the details of what each of the experts said?

Seema Misra: Not each of the experts but I still remember the Judge Stewart’s wording. He said there is no fact, no evidence that I’ve taken any money before they pass it on to jury to decide. So he said that and still jury had to decide that if I’m guilty or not.

Mr Beer: Did you mention that you had reported your early losses, as shown on the system, to the help desk through the trainers?

Seema Misra: Yes, through the trainers. Like losses in the sense, like, when the losses come, be reported, and then make them good anyway.

Mr Beer: You told us that you made up some funds from the shop?

Seema Misra: Yes.

Mr Beer: Did you make up funds from any other source?

Seema Misra: Yes, from borrow from family as well.

Mr Beer: How much did you borrow from your family?

Seema Misra: Round about 20,000.

Mr Beer: I’m sorry?

Seema Misra: 20,000.

Mr Beer: Was that from your sister-in-law?

Seema Misra: My sister-in-law, yes.

Mr Beer: So you borrowed £20,000 from your sister-in-law and put that into the Post Office system?

Seema Misra: Correct, and sold our personal family jewellery as well.

Mr Beer: I think it was on 11 November 2010 that you were sentenced to 15 months’ imprisonment for the offence of theft and six months’ imprisonment on each of the false accounting charges to run concurrently; is that right?

Seema Misra: Correct.

Mr Beer: A confiscation order was made in the sum of £40,000 and you were ordered to pay compensation for £40,000, that was to be paid out of the confiscation order sum?

Seema Misra: Correct.

Mr Beer: How was that sum, the £40,000, in fact, paid off?

Seema Misra: I don’t think it was paid off. They took a charge on the property in London.

Mr Beer: Yes.

Seema Misra: So they put it through auction.

Mr Beer: So you had this second property in London. Was that in Finsbury Park?

Seema Misra: Finsbury Park, three-bedroomed flat, which has always been buy-to-let.

Mr Beer: The Post Office took a charge over it, sold it and satisfied the confiscation order?

Seema Misra: I don’t know how much they got, because there was a mortgage as well, because I cancelled the mortgage payment. Because I was angry with the Post Office, I cancelled the mortgage payment as well. I did not want it, like – but yeah. I don’t know how much they got and all that, so yes.

But I remember then going back to court again and saying that I think it’s like a pound or something. I don’t know the legal terms, but it wasn’t fully paid but they took the property to auction.

Mr Beer: Was that day the day of sentencing, 11 November 2010, in fact, a special day for you?

Seema Misra: Yes.

Mr Beer: In a different respect?

Seema Misra: Yes, my eldest son’s 10th birthday.

Mr Beer: At that point, did you know that you were pregnant with your second son?

Seema Misra: Yes.

Mr Beer: On being sentenced, were you taken to prison or taken to somewhere else?

Seema Misra: Taken to hospital, because I couldn’t believe that I’d been sent to the prison for a crime I never committed. I didn’t take any bags. Until the last minute, until the last minute, I had a faith in the system that I won’t be sent to prison. Why should I be sent to prison for the crime I never committed? So the probation officer did mention about the bags. I said, “No, I have faith. It will be all fine. It will be all fine”.

And when judge gave 15 months’ imprisonment, I didn’t hear anything after that at all. All I felt sharp pain in my stomach, and when I opened my eyes I was in Guildford Hospital.

Mr Beer: How long did you stay in Guildford Hospital?

Seema Misra: A whole night and whole day. So I think it was the 12th, evening, I was transferred to Bronzefield.

Mr Beer: You were transferred to?

Seema Misra: Bronzefield prison.

Mr Beer: How long did you stay in prison?

Seema Misra: Just under four months.

Mr Beer: When you were released from prison, I think you had to wear an electronic tag; is that right?

Seema Misra: Correct.

Mr Beer: What was your experience of prison like?

Seema Misra: Oh, nightmare. I never thought I’m going to come out alive from there. I swear to God, if I hadn’t been pregnant, I would have killed myself, that’s for sure. Being in the prison for the crime I never committed, I was like I brought a shame to my family, that was going through my head. While in the prison, I had, like, you know, people were self-harming them, and all that, and I didn’t trust the system anyway, and like anything is possible in this. If I can be sent to prison for the crime I never committed, anybody might come and stab me, because they’re on something or, you know, anything is possible. And I might get contaminate something from the fellow inmates, or whatever.

So it was like just horrendous. On one occasion, because I was mistreated by the prison authorities, then I spoke to Dav about it, we was so angry and he threaten the prison authority, you know, “If anything happened to my wife or my kid”, he will come in front of the prison and commit suicide. That was “Oh my God”. It was the most stressful – I still hope that it’s just like a nightmare, but it’s not.

Mr Beer: All this time you were pregnant?

Seema Misra: Yes, pregnant for the baby we’d been waiting for, such a long time.

Mr Beer: And your ten-year old son on the outside?

Seema Misra: Yes.

Mr Beer: Did he come to visit?

Seema Misra: Yes, but he didn’t know it’s a prison. So we tell him because mummy’s pregnant, so she’s in a special hospital. We didn’t know what to say to him.

Mr Beer: You were released, as we’ve discussed, after four months on a tag. How long were you on the tag for?

Seema Misra: For another four months.

Mr Beer: Were you on a curfew?

Seema Misra: I was under curfew, and they told me that I have to behave. If I do anything, they will bring me back in, and I was, like, I’m not worried about that because I’m not going to go anywhere because I didn’t go out anywhere. Even I was scared to go to the shops a supermarket. I said – like, just in case, if while I’m going out, and alarm goes, and they will think “Oh, she’s the one with the tag on, so she must be criminal, let’s put her back in”. I didn’t want to risk it so I didn’t go out.

I went in labour with the tag on and I was thinking “Oh my God, it’s just like what could be the midwife thinking like, what kind of mother I’m going to be”.

Mr Beer: I’ve read that you were called something, sort of, nasty when – at this stage; is that right?

Seema Misra: “Pregnant thief”.

Mr Beer: The “pregnant thief”.

Seema Misra: “Pregnant thief”. My picture was in the front of local newspaper, “Pregnant thief”, Davinder gone and been beaten up. While I was in the prison, Davinder, my husband, had been beaten up quite a few times, because he’s my husband, so locals beaten him up as well.

Mr Beer: Was that because of what those people said linked to, firstly, your race and, secondly, you having stolen money, in their view?

Seema Misra: Yes, they said to Dav, like, “Go back to your country”, and they use all that words.

Mr Beer: The words I’ve seen recorded as having been said to your husband were: “Fucking Paki, coming to this country, and stealing old people’s money”.

Seema Misra: Yes.

Mr Beer: Is that right?

Seema Misra: Correct.

Mr Beer: Did you move house?

Seema Misra: Yes, we were – like, I only came to know about when I came out of the prison. Dav didn’t never mentioned me while I was in there. So I only came to know he was so worried about kids’ safety that, if they can do this to Davinder, then kids are very young, so we moved house.

Mr Beer: Did your conviction affect your ability to secure a job?

Seema Misra: Yes. I was so – I didn;t not have any confidence. I couldn’t work in office at most (unclear), like people would be talking about me, because that’s what whole village did. They stopped speaking to us and we lost friends and like, in my view, everybody knew. Even if I’m working in the office, they say “Oh, she’s the thief”. If something goes wrong “She’s a convicted criminal so she must have done something”.

So being an IT background, I said to Dav, you know, let me just do – be an Uber driver, in that way people might not know me and there’s no cash handling, so I may be able to get that job. Because it was just on Dave’s shoulder, he was working, and even that application was refused.

In between – because of my conviction, they couldn’t have convicted criminal running an Uber taxi. In the meantime, I said “Okay” – because I didn’t have the courage to go out and work with other people, I couldn’t. I did my childminding, as well. I said “Okay, so I can work from home, and all that”. Even that wasn’t successful, because I see in my local Facebook, all the people been asking for childminder but nobody was coming to me because of my conviction.

Mr Beer: Did the conviction affect other areas of your life?

Seema Misra: I was thinking of a word or a feeling to describe that. I couldn’t – I couldn’t find – I couldn’t find that. Definitely all over.

For nine years we had to hide the truth from our eldest son. We only told him 2019, when we won GLO that this is what happened. He was only ten years old in the morning Mummy promising him to, dropping him to school, that in the evening we will celebrate your birthday together and in the evening I’m not here, and then he will find out I’m in the prison. Just approaching teenager, as well, and I didn’t know what to do. So we have to hide the truth from him.

Mr Beer: You revealed that to him in 2019?

Seema Misra: Correct.

Mr Beer: What caused that?

Seema Misra: Sorry what?

Mr Beer: What made you make that decision?

Seema Misra: Because at least we had a one victory on black and white piece of paper that I’m not the only one and I wasn’t mad screaming for help. So it was proven in the High Court, yes, Horizon is not a robust system that they are claiming. So I’m not – I knew I’m not criminal but at least one of the big courts decided as well, yeah, there was something wrong with the system, not with the people.

Mr Beer: So it was part of the outcome of the Group Litigation –

Seema Misra: Correct.

Mr Beer: – that prompted you to tell?

Seema Misra: Yes.

Mr Beer: Were you involved in the Group Litigation from the start?

Seema Misra: Yes. Yes, very start. I remember in the beginning, it was only like five/ten of us, like ten people around the table and everything, and then from there to big group.

Mr Beer: Did you receive money?

Seema Misra: I did receive some money.

Mr Beer: Under the settlement agreement?

Seema Misra: Yes, I did receive some money.

Mr Beer: You told us that you lost a job?

Seema Misra: Yes.

Mr Beer: With a salary that you built up to £80,000?

Seema Misra: Correct.

Mr Beer: That you invested £200,000-odd in the Post Office?

Seema Misra: Correct.

Mr Beer: That you had paid money in out of the shop takings to try to balance the books?

Seema Misra: Correct.

Mr Beer: That you had borrowed £20,000 from your sister-in-law?

Seema Misra: Correct.

Mr Beer: Did you get all of that back under the agreement?

Seema Misra: No.

Mr Beer: Why not?

Seema Misra: They have their own ways of dealing with it and decide what they want to do probably.

Mr Beer: Who’s the “they” in that?

Seema Misra: Royal Mail and Post Office. It was – like now, it’s separate but, yes, Post Office.

Mr Beer: Do those financial consequences that I’ve just discussed, that loss of money, still affect you?

Seema Misra: It does, it does. It still makes me shiver when I think about the time we gone through, the things we have sacrificed.

Mr Beer: Did you take part in any other mediation or scheme?

Seema Misra: Yes. As far as I remember, my name was put forward for mediation but it was refused because I have a conviction.

Mr Beer: More recently, have you sought to make a claim under the Historical Shortfall Scheme, the HSS?

Seema Misra: I don’t know the exact word. No, I can’t recall.

Mr Beer: Standing here now, sitting here now, looking back, what would you like to happen, so far as the Post Office is concerned?

Seema Misra: You know, I’ve been writing it down, I’ve got lots of things. Definitely – it wasn’t just the postmasters who suffered, it was the whole family. We personally had to sell our shop in negative equity. We lost our investment in London, which we –

Mr Beer: If you want to refer to something that you have written down, to prompt your memory, then please say so.

Seema Misra: Yes.

Mr Beer: I know that it’s difficult to sometimes remember everything you want to say when it comes to this moment?

Seema Misra: True, and putting in right words, as well. It’s just all there and just saying it, it is difficult.

Mr Beer: Please do.

Seema Misra: Davinder, by husband, become alcoholic because of what was going on, and I can still feel the frustration in him that he couldn’t protect me from Post Office and he couldn’t get justice for me yet. I still feel that frustration in him that I don’t know how they’re going to cover that.

And while I was in the prison my parents back home in India thought that, you know, because I wasn’t able to talk to them, they thought Dav might have harmed me. So they were harassing him, saying like, you know, like, “What have you done to our daughter?” So they were, like – he was getting pressure from my parents as well. But I couldn’t call them, so he did like – not a conference call, so he called my Dad and then he put the phone next to – because I was allowed to call him, so we set a time that I will call at that time, so he called Dad and that’s how we got to talk, and that calmed my parents down. But before he was thinking that he’d been a good son-in-law but what happened to him. So that pressure was there. I can’t even imagine what he had to go through.

Our ten-year-old son, he’d say, “Okay, like “Mummy gone to prison but when she going to come back? When she going to come back?”

While we lost the business, we set up a taxi firm. So while the trial was going on and everything, so I was the one taking the calls and then we had Davinder and the other drivers who was passing the job onto them. So when I was sent away, that business we had losses in, because there was nobody taking the call and Davinder had to leave the ten-year-old son at home sometime at night as well, keep him on the video call, and do the runs, because he had to pay the bills. So sometime, I think, like, you know, it was the eldest son kept Dav alive and the youngest one kept me alive, otherwise we wouldn’t be here. We wouldn’t have been here, the things we have gone through.

I had some health issues after having the eldest son, that’s why I couldn’t conceive and there was like a huge gap. We’d been waiting, including the eldest son, he had been waiting to have a sibling. He always used to say that my sister-in-law’s – like, his elder son got a sibling and their brother’s son got a sibling. I’m the only one. He’d been waiting. He’d been praying to God, “I want a sibling, I want a sibling”, and when the news came, we couldn’t celebrate it as a family. We had to – we were happy but, at the same time, we were sad that we couldn’t even hold each other’s hand.

Giving birth with a tag on, even that time the thought was, like, in me, it was early morning birth. I said, “Oh my God, alarm will go and they will come and get me from the hospital”. I couldn’t believe anybody, I know. The solicitors said, “It will be fine, we have informed them” but I couldn’t – I said, “No, anything is possible. If I can send to the prison for the crime I never committed, anything is possible in this country”. I was worried about that.

And work. Until this date, finding any document or anything, you know, when they have a conviction column to tick, that bring back the nightmares. Anything, it’s just like anything – it is a small thing, it is like a basic thing, but not for me.

Mr Beer: So like on an insurance application?

Seema Misra: Anything, anything.

Mr Beer: Even though you now rightly tick no?

Seema Misra: Even when they say now, there’s no – I just say, “You know, anything” – in the eye of the law I was a convicted criminal until 23 April 2021 anyway. Even now, “Make any statement, make sure it’s true, otherwise it be an offence”. I say – I laugh about it now, but I say “Please don’t say that, I just came out of one conviction”. So, like, my hand shivers to sign.

I was so scared when I came out when most of the people stopped talking to us anyway. When we moved house as well, when everybody used to ask me my name I just used to say Seema. I’m proud of my name, you know. I never say “Seema Misra”, what if they Google it, because it was everywhere. For eight years we didn’t celebrate my youngest son’s birthday because I was scared, you know. I did not want him to get bullied at school. It was just like, I’m blessed, I’m blessed to have a lovely family, blessed that Davinder is my husband and two beautiful kids, I’m blessed to have them. But I didn’t want anyone to know that I’m his wife or I’m my kids’ mother because, in me, it was “I want to protect my kids”.

I did the late school runs so nobody can see me. My elder son play cricket. I used to take him to – when I started going out a bit, I used to drop him to matches, never stepped into the ground because I thought “Oh, my God, he’s doing so well in his life, I don’t want my name attached to him so people caution him”, I wanted to protect my kids. I just like used to park my car way, that I can see him, I can be proud of him, I can see him playing, but I did not want anybody else to see me.

I lost my faith in the system completely. It was because of, I would say, honourable Paul Marshall, Flora Page, Nick Gould and Nick Wallis, they brought my faith back into the system. You know, “We will get justice for you”.

There came a point during my appeal when Mr Marshall and Ms Page have to step down. I was so scared. I was so scared. For me, it’s just like Post Office authority is like a Mafia. I’m saying this because I wanted to say, “Please don’t send me (unclear) in my place”, saying that you say to everything. In my view, they were like a Mafia. Because of whatever happened, if Mr Marshall and Ms Page have to step down, they might get me killed. Swear to God, I was like – I was scared to go out, that I’m going to cross a road, Post Office will probably hire somebody and they might crush me. I was scared to drive that, you know, they might get me involved in an accident. So I never get to the court, like all that kind of things. I might be just making it up but that’s how I was: afraid.

My eldest son study at university in London. I was like calling him, you know, like “When are you coming home”, and everything, “Speak to me every hour, let me know where you are”. I was so scared of everybody’s safety that anything is possible.

Anything is possible.

There was a time, because I couldn’t work, even for the essentials we had to compromise. There was like, in Asian cooking, we have like a different, different, kind of lentils. There were, like, over 10-plus kind of lentils. If you buy a pack each, it will be expensive. So I used to buy one bigger one and when kids used to ask, “Why we having this one regularly now?” I used to say, “It’s good for you, this one is more healthier” because we couldn’t afford the essential needs.

Our growth were amazing before buying the Post Office: no loan, our cars were fully paid, everything before the Post Office, before 29 June 2005. Our growth was stopped. Our golden era was, like, as a young couple: that we couldn’t enjoy. Precious time with the kids: that we couldn’t enjoy.

I think you asked what I want from the Post Office.

Mr Beer: I did.

Seema Misra: Lots of things. I will do my best to be polite. I wanted to ask them, you know, why on earth they played with the postmasters, not just postmasters, and their families’ life? In my eyes, and everybody knows now, Post Office have blood on their hands and I believe now, and I read it somewhere as well, that we live in a developed country. But how can we let all this criminal roaming around freely?

How can Post Office lied under oath in my trial, so did Gary Jenkins from Fujitsu, and when I lost my case they celebrated. Why? Because they wanted to set an example to others. This, I only found out later. They probably thought, you know, they can crush this Indian lady. I probably won’t make a noise or say anything to anybody and, you know, nobody will know about it.

But, I’m afraid, I’m sorry to say that, they were wrong. My motto is to let everybody know, like who’s suffering from the Post Office, that they are not the only one. That was a very difficult decision for us to go in the media but I would like to let everybody know that was the reason like they are not the only one, the other people as well. I wanted to let the true picture of Post Office known to the other people as well.

Mr Beer: Are you referring there to the later discovery of a document which said that your case had involved an unprecedented attack on the integrity of the Horizon system?

Seema Misra: Correct, yes but back –

Mr Beer: And that the prosecution team had managed to destroy it?

Seema Misra: Correct, yes, but we only came to know that recently, even back in 2011, when I came out. We know, like, there are so many people suffering but the one thing is lacking there is no much – not many people know about it. Everybody been told that they are the only one. So, like, even if I could save one life by going into the media saying “This what happened to me”, I feel glad, I feel happy, that people need to know about it because it wasn’t widely known, that’s why.

Being working – having a newsagent for last nearly since 2003, even before buying the Post Office, we had a newsagent store, we didn’t know about it. So, did you know, like to go and tell everybody, “Hold on, be strong, you’re not the only one. We will get through this”.

Mr Beer: Sorry, I interrupted you.

Seema Misra: That’s fine.

What come in my mind, as you probably gathered, I done my schooling in India and I read there in India, it’s probably the same everywhere, the democracy is the Government for people and by the people. But, in Post Office scandal, made me feel this is a land of two law. There’s a separate law for the rich and in authority and then there’s a separate law for people in common people. Example: we have to get 46 million to bring the truth forward. Whereas the common people is restricted by law, they get penalised. Even like signing a council document, we have to make sure that is the correct information, otherwise it is an offence – any document. Whereas authorities can lie under oath, no contempt of court, like Gareth Jenkins did in my trial. He had an oath. He took an oath, and lied under oath. Excuse me for pronouncing the name correctly, Paul (unclear) lied to Parliament, contempt of Parliament, big offence in my eye, and it should be big offence in democratic country. But nothing happened.

Jarnail Singh, and whoever was the head of the Post Office Legal Department when my trial was going on, they deliberately hide the evidence from court which could have proved me innocent, but they decided not to. Contempt of court.

In the court, we asked for witnesses from Post Office like Michael, Tamiko. Post Office denied: Michael never been to the Post Office. I don’t know what the legal term would be for that. I don’t know. They erased Michael’s call log. All these people, until date, they’ve been having fun time with their loved ones. Well, whereas my family and the fellow postmasters’ family and themselves, we were having challenges, health challenges, wealth, peace of mind, which proves that it’s a land of two laws.

At least it’s proven until now Gareth Jenkins in my trial, Jarnail Singh, head of Post Office legal system Paula Vennells are a criminal and it’s black and white written down. Why are they still roaming around?

Another thing that always bothered me, me and you we’ve been told you’re the only one. But authorities, judiciary system, police system must have noticed something. Why is there suddenly a rise in postmasters being cautioned and taken to judge? There must be some sort of, like, an information feed or something, you know, because they are part of establishment – and they make each other happy probably. That’s why they’re roaming around freely.

At least, at least all not just like the people in my case named – at least people who have been named so far and who are going to be named later on, at least they should be arrested, get arrested, get arrested and get cautioned. Whereas like, you know, the fault of Horizon system we’ve been cautioned and here now we know two big courts, two big courts of the country, said – you know, like, they named some people and they say, like, they are a criminal wandering around. I don’t feel safe that we were criminal wandering around in our streets like that.

For a job application, mortgage, even to get a mobile contract, we common people have to go through credit checks, conviction checks and a lot more; wherever whoever involved in a court proceeding get CBE, get titles, what kind of checks they do?

I bet if, you know, like somebody been (unclear) by going through court proceeding they’ve been honoured. If that happened in India, there will be lots of examples. People would have stepped down in shame. They would have had a shame on themselves. Oh my God, I can’t take this honour. Whereas – title might be wrong, Chairman or – it was Alex Crozier – it was Crozier, Alan Crozier – Adam Crozier, sorry.

They were the people the head of the Post Office when my trial was going on when there was like a lot of Horizon Issues were going on. What are they doing now? Chairman of BT. So they don’t have to go through all these checks and all that. It’s just only for the common people. The people in the authorities, they can just – we took you to court, you are criminal, we ruined you life but forget it. We’re going to make most of our money. We will have all this big, big (unclear).

I took my Post Office salary from 50 to 80,000. But whose turnover got increased? Post Office turnover got increased. You know?

I’ve been awarded Crown of Colleague Award from Post Office because what I want happened in the evening by the balancing time, I didn’t let that happen during daytime by serving the people. I made sure we had, like, increasing the salary they must have done – we must have done something good, like the service. We changed, like, uniform as well to make sure that people feel welcome and everything. It’s a busy post office. We used to, like, have extra seating for the people to sit down and all that. We’re the one who took the – help Post Office to get the turnover.

But what we did we get in return? Convictions.

Do you know what I think, that all these people who made money, they might have retired now, they might have stepped down or whatever, but since the Horizon issue started, not just in my case, like whoever was involved in there, at least definitely the people who are named, they should be behind the bars straight away. Sometime I wonder what are we waiting for? Are we waiting for them so they can run away? And then we say, oh my God, this is a different country law over there, whatever. I don’t know why. What are we waiting for?

Their money should be taken off them, their houses should be put on to auction like they did mine, and their money should be distributed among 555 because looks like it, we getting penalised. You know like we normally say to kids, I normally say to kids as well, you know like when the kids are growing up we tell them, “Oh, tell me the truth. I won’t tell you off”. That’s what we normally do to the kids. Here 555 taken them to the court and we’re getting penalised for that. Oh my God, how can you do that? That’s what my feeling is. We’re getting penalised for that, like, to bringing the truth in front of everybody.

On my trial in Guildford Crown Court, Judge Stewart said there is no fact, no evidence that I’ve taken any money. But why then, when the judge believed that I haven’t done anything, why we still have to wait for jury to decide? You know. Big – two big courts of the country so far told Post Office so many things. It, like told, Post Office it’s a mass destruction on industrial state. But they don’t care. When I say “they”, it means Post Office and authorities. They don’t care.

I clearly can see, you know, like they probably thinking like, oh, give them a chance to run away or something probably. That’s what my feeling is, why they’re not still – people have been taken to police station for the small amount. Here, we’re talking about millions and millions. So many lives, so many people are not here to be with us. And they are the ones who are lying freely. I definitely don’t feel comfortable my kids roaming around freely.

I want Inquiry to punish them, not let them to pass the blame. Oh, yes I notice that they pass to that person like that kind of stuff.

And another thing, you know, like I’m really thankful for the Inquiry, you know, so we can put our point forward. But at the same time, I don’t want Post Office to hide behind the Inquiry and saying that, “Okay, we’ll make a decision when the Inquiry is done”. Inquiry going to find who know what and what punishment they like but they don’t – for whatever decision they need to, whatever caution they need to answer, they should still carry on.

Until now I told my story so many times but again when I still speak about it, it brings the nightmares back. It’s just like all these sounds, everything, I can just feel it like it’s just happened. It doesn’t – I am not convicted criminal anymore but I don’t think I’ll ever be – it’s like lifetime imprisonment. It’s like a lifetime imprisonment for me and my family. I don’t think I’ll be able to – I would love to forget about it and move on but I don’t know how.

Every time we go to court, we find a new evidence, where there’ll be a Clarke advice, shredding document, and they were probably like some more coming up as well. But can they be sincere for once and say the truth and accept it and – to be honest, I say it for myself, and probably the same for everybody, not just physically, we are mentally tired. We are mentally tired. We wanted to enjoy life whatever we got left. Can’t just, like – it’s not easy thing, but that doesn’t mean we’re going to give up. We do want the answer.

I just say: please get this sorted.

Mr Beer: Thank you very much, Mrs Misra. They’re all the questions that I ask of you.

Chair, have you got any questions that you wish to ask of Mrs Misra?

Sir Wyn Williams: No, thank you, Mr Beer, but, as with the last witness, I’d like just to say a few words.

Mrs Misra, you are right, of course, that you have told your story on a number of occasions to a number of different people, and I was fully aware of most of what you had said this morning and I have been aware of it for, well, virtually for the whole time that I’ve been involved in this Inquiry. But all that said, there’s no substitution for me hearing it directly from you and, just by way of an example, who could have actually understood the impact not just upon you but your husband and your children without listening carefully to what you have said this morning and now into this afternoon?

So thank you very much for coming to give evidence to this Inquiry. I appreciate it very much.

Seema Misra: Thank you.

Mr Beer: Thank you, Chair. I wonder whether it might be appropriate to take the lunch break now – we’re in your hands at this end – and come back at 1.30.

Sir Wyn Williams: I think one of the disadvantages of remote hearings, Mr Beer, is that you are much better placed to judge whether or not we should take our break now and I will fit in with everyone’s arrangements.

Mr Beer: I’m never one to refuse a meal; so can we say 1.30?

Sir Wyn Williams: Certainly. I’ll see you all then again.

Mr Beer: Thank you.

(12.38 pm)

(Luncheon Adjournment)

(1.34 pm)

Ms Hodge: Good afternoon, sir. Can you see and hear us?

Sir Wyn Williams: Yes, I can. Can you see and hear me?

Ms Hodge: We can thank you. Our next and final witness for today is Ms Janet Skinner.

Sir Wyn Williams: With whom, of course, I’ve met already. So nice to meet you again, Ms Skinner.

Seema Misra: You too, Sir Wyn.

Janet Skinner


Questioned by Ms Hodge

Ms Hodge: As you know, Ms Skinner, my name is Catriona Hodge and I ask questions on behalf of the Inquiry?

Janet Skinner: Yes.

Ms Hodge: Please can you state your full name?

Janet Skinner: Yes, it’s Ms Janet Louise Skinner.

Ms Hodge: You made a statement on 16 February of this year; is that correct?

Janet Skinner: Yes.

Ms Hodge: Do you have a copy of that statement?

Janet Skinner: I do, yes.

Ms Hodge: Can I ask you, please, to turn to the final page, page 6?

Janet Skinner: Yes.

Ms Hodge: Can you see your signature in the bottom half of that page?

Janet Skinner: I can, yes.

Ms Hodge: Was the content of the statement true to the best of your knowledge and belief when it was made?

Janet Skinner: Yes.

Ms Hodge: I’d like to begin by asking you a few questions about yourself.

Janet Skinner: Yes.

Ms Hodge: Where in the country are you from?

Janet Skinner: I’m from Hull, Yorkshire.

Ms Hodge: How old are you now?

Janet Skinner: I’m 51.

Ms Hodge: You have two children; is that right?

Janet Skinner: I do, yes.

Ms Hodge: How old are they?

Janet Skinner: 33 and 30. I was quite young.

Ms Hodge: You joined the Post Office in 1994; is that correct?

Janet Skinner: I did, yes, 20 February 1994.

Ms Hodge: How old were you when you first started working for the Post Office?

Janet Skinner: I was probably 33, I think, at the time.

Ms Hodge: What was the role that you performed?

Janet Skinner: It was just – I was – I applied in the shop and because they put a notice in the window, they just wanted a counter clerk, and it just to cover the dinner hours. So it was just 10.00 until 2.00 because, obviously, my children were at school at that point, so it worked well, so it was between school times.

Ms Hodge: At this stage, were you an employee of the Post Office or a subpostmaster?

Janet Skinner: It was – the actual franchises was owned by United News but I believe they was actually owned by the Royal Mail at the time, because it was part of the Royal Mail.

Ms Hodge: Can you please describe the branch where you worked?

Janet Skinner: It was on a council estate, so it was extremely busy all the time. Sometimes you didn’t even have time to lift your head to actually see who you were serving. So you would get that engrossed in serving people that you would expect a woman’s voice, when you looked up and it weren’t, it was a man, so …

Ms Hodge: Did you enjoy your work as a counter clerk?

Janet Skinner: I loved it. Every day was a different day. You just never, ever had two days the same. You, sort of, got used to the people you were serving, as well.

Ms Hodge: You described dealing with customers at the desk?

Janet Skinner: Yes.

Ms Hodge: Were you ever required to do balancing, when you were a counter clerk?

Janet Skinner: No, no, no, no.

Ms Hodge: You were later appointed as a subpostmistress in 2002; is that right?

Janet Skinner: Yes.

Ms Hodge: What attracted you to the role of subpostmistress?

Janet Skinner: It was – I wasn’t actually the postmistress, I was just a manager at the time, and it was somebody who I used to work with. She was actually, like, a postmistress and she was running a number of offices and overlooking a number of offices, and she offered me a job as the manager. Because I’d already worked from ‘94, so I became a counter clerk, an assistant manager and then a manager.

Ms Hodge: Which branch was that?

Janet Skinner: To be honest, I’ve worked in all of them all over Hull.

Ms Hodge: Is it right to say you did at some point become a subpostmistress?

Janet Skinner: Yes, that was in 2004.

Ms Hodge: In 2004. Which branch was it that you –

Janet Skinner: That was the North Bransholme but I was actually postmistress to two. There was another one, which was Bodmin Road, it was called but that was closed about six months after my contract with them. It was closed due to the rejuvenation scheme that was put in place from the Government to close so many offices.

Ms Hodge: Did you purchase the North Bransholme branch?

Janet Skinner: No, no, no. I worked – my contract was signed with the Post Office. So they paid me a fixed salary and I just run it for them.

Ms Hodge: Were there other staff employed in the branch?

Janet Skinner: Yes.

Ms Hodge: How many?

Janet Skinner: Three.

Ms Hodge: What was the salary that you received from the Post Office for running this branch?

Janet Skinner: I think it was either 4,500 or – I can’t actually remember which one it was.

Ms Hodge: Is that per month?

Janet Skinner: Yeah, that was per month. So then I covered, do you know, like the salary for the staff and the rent on the business itself.

Ms Hodge: Was the Horizon system installed in your branch when you took it over?

Janet Skinner: Yes.

Ms Hodge: Had you had any previous experience of using the system before you became a subpostmistress?

Janet Skinner: Yes. It was installed when I worked in an office called Grandale in Hull in 2000, and that’s when I had the first, sort of like, pot call with the Horizon system itself.

Ms Hodge: What problems did you experience when using Horizon?

Janet Skinner: The Horizon system, it never balanced. It was either up or it was down. It was never spot on. I mean, when we first had it installed, I still used to use the normal ledgers because, obviously, when you’re – before the Horizon system was installed, you had your daily ledger, and then you transferred your daily ledger into the weekly ledger, and that was how you balanced. So if anything was missing, you had everything in front of you, that you could re-double-check.

So I carried on for a couple of months actually doing it that way, and it was balancing on the ledgers but not balancing on the Horizon. So it was never correct.

Ms Hodge: When you became a subpostmistress, who was responsible for discrepancies?

Janet Skinner: Me. It was totally my responsibility.

Ms Hodge: When you experienced an apparent discrepancy or shortfall shown by Horizon, what did you do?

Janet Skinner: Well, you’d have to go through everything that you had on hand, like giro things and making sure your REMs have been done correctly, but the only thing you really had was what you had in front of you, and I think what the Horizon system installation did was it took away all of the paperwork that you had that you could check. So the only thing – information you actually had available was what the Horizon system gave you.

Ms Hodge: To whom did you look for assistance?

Janet Skinner: The helpline. I rung the helpline on numerous occasions. To be honest, when you rang them, it was like they were reading from a script. You could tell what they was reading. It was something – it was script written because of the way it was said to you over the phone, and if they couldn’t help you, they would just say “Well, you just have to make it good yourself”.

Ms Hodge: According to the judgment of the Court of Appeal (Criminal Division), you contacted the helpline 116 times between 1 January 2004 and 31 January 2005; is that right?

Janet Skinner: Yes.

Ms Hodge: What advice did you receive?

Janet Skinner: Basically the same: if the office was short, it was my responsibility to make good, that I was wrong.

Ms Hodge: You’ve explained in your statement that matters came to a head in 2006?

Janet Skinner: Yes.

Ms Hodge: What happened?

Janet Skinner: The loss – my office was running at a loss of £40,000. I had a visit from two retail network managers. There’s only one of them I can remember her name and it’s Diane Oyles, and when they came I took them in the back, explained to them that my offices was running at a loss. They asked if they could do a cash check while they was there and then they said, “Well, what we’ll do is we’ll keep the office open, we’ll just do a cash check”.

So I said, “Well, to be honest, I’d rather close it, have an audit and sort it out”, and so they did the cash check, we closed the office, they removed the keys from me and told me I had to meet them there the next morning at 9.00 with the auditors.

Ms Hodge: How did you feel when you were told to leave your branch?

Janet Skinner: Devastated, absolutely devastated, but I think I was more relieved, as well, because I thought now, obviously, they’re going to get to the bottom of what’s gone wrong. I think you, sort of, you put your trust in them because, as they keep portraying, themselves the Post Office are a trusted brand and their trust wasn’t to find a problem that, it was to find a solution, and I was the solution.

Ms Hodge: You have described employees of the Post Office coming to your branch to carry out an audit. What did they tell you about the outcome of that audit?

Janet Skinner: They just said that it was actually running at a loss of 59,000 and I was suspended without pay. I was searched before I left and I was also informed that if I removed anything from the office, it would be classed as theft. So all paperwork, nothing, I couldn’t move anything. It all became the property of the Post Office.

Ms Hodge: How did you feel when you returned home later that day?

Janet Skinner: I was devastated, absolutely. Everything just crushed. You just feel crushed.

Ms Hodge: What further enquiries did the Post Office carry out to get to the bottom of this apparent shortfall?

Janet Skinner: They interviewed the staff, and then I – and then, to be honest, nothing. I had no – they requested that I go for an interview the next day, which I got from a phonecall after the audit.

Ms Hodge: Were you told you were going to be interviewed?

Janet Skinner: They just asked – somebody rang me and said “Would you attend an interview tomorrow? It’s just a chat it’s not really – you don’t have to bring anybody with you, but if you do bring somebody with you they can’t speak and if they do speak, they’ll be told to leave”. So I attended a main Post Office branch on Bransholme the following day and met with two Post Office investigators, Diane Matthews and Steven Bradshaw.

Ms Hodge: Was it an informal chat, as you’d been led to believe?

Janet Skinner: Well, they just said – I gone up the stairs and they said “We’re having a problem with the recording equipment” and, across the road, about a two-minute walk there was a police station. “Would you mind if we rang them and asked if we could use their equipment?” So I said, you know, no. I didn’t have anything to hide, so I wasn’t really that bothered about it.

So we walked over to the police station and then, obviously, they set up the recording and then, as soon as they started recording, they then cautioned me. So then I knew, at that point, that they was actually looking at me.

Ms Hodge: Before you were cautioned had anybody told you that you were suspected of stealing this money?

Janet Skinner: No, no.

Ms Hodge: Can you please describe how the interview was conducted?

Janet Skinner: Their main point is, “What did you do with the money?” And, at first, I thought, “Do you know, if it’s not me, I know it’s not me” and so then I started thinking could it be my staff stealing money because obviously you’ve got – the money’s got to be going somewhere. But it was the same thing. I didn’t have any proof that anybody else had stolen anything and they just wanted to know what I was going to do about the losses.

Ms Hodge: How was the interview concluded?

Janet Skinner: They concluded the interview, said that they would be speaking to the staff but, at the end of it, Steven Bradshaw did say to me, “We’ve dealt with people who have stolen from the Post Offices before and we know you haven’t done anything wrong”.

Ms Hodge: You have explained you were suspended by the Post Office on the date that, I was going to say, the discrepancy was found, but you told them there was discrepancy showing in the Horizon system.

Janet Skinner: Yes. That was 13 May.

Ms Hodge: When did you discover that the Post Office was going to bring a prosecution against you?

Janet Skinner: I received a letter from them in August 2006.

Ms Hodge: Do you recall the offences with which you were charged?

Janet Skinner: They said that they were charging me with false accounting and theft.

Ms Hodge: How did you plead to those charges?

Janet Skinner: Well, the letter, obviously, stated I had to attend the Hull Magistrates’ Court, which I did with my legal representation, which was Karl Turner and, on the day, he said, “They’ve offered you a plea bargain, if you plead guilty to the false accounting, they’ll drop the theft”. But, to be honest, in hindsight, they have everything – access to my bank accounts anyway, so they knew that I actually hadn’t stolen anything. So – but Karl had said, obviously, if you take the lesser charge, plead guilty to it, you won’t get – there’s a good chance you won’t get a custodial sentence. So that’s what I did.

Ms Hodge: Did you know at that time that there were others who’d experienced problems using Horizon, like you?

Janet Skinner: No.

Ms Hodge: How old were your children at this time?

Janet Skinner: My daughter was 17 and my son was 14.

Ms Hodge: Did you tell your children about the prosecution?

Janet Skinner: No. No, I didn’t.

Ms Hodge: Why not?

Janet Skinner: Pardon?

Ms Hodge: Why not?

Janet Skinner: Because I didn’t need them to worry about it. They was both going through school. They just – at that time, like me, I didn’t think we had anything to worry about.

Ms Hodge: You were convicted in the Crown Court upon your guilty plea?

Janet Skinner: Yes.

Ms Hodge: Was your conviction reported in the press?

Janet Skinner: Yes, it was front page of the Hull Daily Mail.

Ms Hodge: What effect did that have on you and your children?

Janet Skinner: Well, I was already in jail when they did that because it was published, I think, on the Saturday. I was sentenced on 2 February 2007. The Magistrates’ Court adjourned it to the Crown Court, and I attended the Crown Court in the January of 2007, and they wanted a probation report done, which then made it four weeks later. But the probation report was not very good because I wouldn’t admit I’d done anything wrong. They found me untrustworthy, so I was given a nine-month custodial sentence on 2 February.

Ms Hodge: Were you aware when you attended court on 2 February that you might be sent to prison?

Janet Skinner: No, I really didn’t think I had, because to go to jail, you’ve got to have committed a crime and, if you can’t prove that you’ve permitted a crime, because I couldn’t I hadn’t and they couldn’t prove I had, but yet I still went to jail.

Ms Hodge: Where in court were you standing when the judge read out your sentence?

Janet Skinner: In the dock.

Ms Hodge: What did the security guards do when the judge sentenced you to prison?

Janet Skinner: You’re stood in the dock, and he said that he was giving me a nine-month prison sentence because of the amount of money that was involved, because I’d stolen from the Crown, and I heard the gate lock and then he told me that it was a custodial sentence. I’ll be honest, I thought he was going to say “suspended” but he didn’t.

Ms Hodge: How did you feel when you were escorted out of the courtroom?

Janet Skinner: I was just an emotional wreck, I don’t actually remember. The only thing I remember is being in the holding cell and then going to Wakefield Prison.

Ms Hodge: How were you transported there?

Janet Skinner: In – well, they took me out in handcuffs, put me in one of those police transport things.

Ms Hodge: What happened upon your arrival at prison?

Janet Skinner: I was photographed, finger printed, told to remove my clothes so that they could strip search me. So they put – made me stand behind the curtain and squat and then put a mirror underneath to make sure you’re not taking anything in with you.

Ms Hodge: Did you have an opportunity to speak to your children when you arrived into prison?

Janet Skinner: I was given a phonecall there in the evening and my daughter wouldn’t actually speak to me because she was just – she was an emotional wreck and I didn’t want to speak to her, to be honest. I felt so ashamed. I was supposed to be there to protect them and show them what – you do the right thing but yet you do the right thing and I went to jail anyway.

Ms Hodge: Were your children able to visit you in prison?

Janet Skinner: I didn’t want them visiting me. That was the only thing I could control and it was hard enough for me to have that memory of me being in jail, they weren’t having that memory of me being in jail. So I refused to see them.

Ms Hodge: You were released from prison in April 2007 after serving two and a half months of your sentence; is that right?

Janet Skinner: Yes. I was in Drake Hall, as well, after Wakefield, and then it was there I got released on 12 April.

Ms Hodge: What conditions were imposed on you?

Janet Skinner: I was put on tag 6.00 until 6.00 curfew, and that was until the August of 2007.

Ms Hodge: We’ll shortly address the circumstances in which your conviction came to be quashed in April of last year but I’d like to ask you a bit about the confiscation proceedings, before we do that, if I may.

After you were released from prison, the Post Office obtained a confiscation order against you; is that right?

Janet Skinner: Yes.

Ms Hodge: That was in the sum of £11,000?

Janet Skinner: Yeah, but that was for compensation. But they put that charge against my property that I earned at the time but, obviously, due to the fact that I’d lost my job, I was unable to pay my mortgage. So my mortgage – my house was literally – I was fighting against the mortgage company to keep hold of it, so that I could sell it, which is what I did. I ended up selling it and completing on 31 October 2007.

Ms Hodge: What happened as a result of the sale of your house?

Janet Skinner: The mortgage company had given me a huge penalty for settling the mortgage early, so there was actually no funds left for the Post Office to take.

Ms Hodge: What action did they take in relation to the £11,000?

Janet Skinner: Well, do you know what, because I moved away from that house and I had to go into rented accommodation, I didn’t actually get any mail, because everything that was corresponding to the compensation was being sent to the house that I no longer owned. I only found this out because of Nick Wallis, to be honest, because of the investigation he did with Panorama. All of the letters was being sent to my previous address.

Ms Hodge: When did it come to your attention that the Post Office –

Janet Skinner: June 2008. I was working on a temporary contract through an agency at a heating company in Hull, and a friend of mine rang me and he said, “Janet, you’re in the paper” and I went, “What do you mean? I’m in the paper?” So he said, “Apparently, there’s a warrant out for your arrest” and I was on the front page of the Hull Daily Mail and it was for non-payment of compensation to the Post Office.

Ms Hodge: What did you do when you found out there was a warrant for your arrest?

Janet Skinner: I contacted the warrant officer – I can’t remember his surname, but his name was Mike – and he said, “Obviously, there’s been some form of misunderstanding. Can you get proof of the sale?” So I said, “Yeah, I can contact the solicitors”. So I went to the solicitors, got a copy of the sale and that’s when I found myself that all of the actual money had gone to the mortgage company, and then – so then I had to hand myself in to a warrant, because I had to answer for the warrant the following day. So I had to go to Leeds Crown Court and hand myself in at 10.00 in the morning.

Ms Hodge: What happened when you handed yourself in?

Janet Skinner: They handcuffed me and put me in cells for the day. They basically told me I was looking at a five-year jail sentence for non-payment of compensation.

Ms Hodge: How was that issue resolved?

Janet Skinner: Well, I was being tried for the same thing in two different courts because I also had to answer to the warrant in Hull Crown Court for the same thing. So then, obviously, my then legal team had to then get the case combined because it was just one case but I was being tried in two separate courts. But I then had to do exactly the same thing I’d done the first time round, was prove how much money I’ve got, prove my bank accounts, borrow – I had to borrow money because they wanted £1,500 off me within 14 days. So I borrowed the money off my ex-husband to pay it.

And then the Post Office actually was – well, the prosecution was happy, the fact that I hadn’t had any money myself. So they settled it there and then. But the Post Office then kept that charge against me, so rather than going for the £11,000, they’ve gone for the £59,000, which is held against me personally. So if I come into any financial funds or anything that they can take that money back off me and, to this day – I was talking about this outside, I’ve not actually received anything to say that that’s been wiped.

So I mean, really, I could still owe that money to the Post Office and they could come after me for it anyway.

Ms Hodge: You’re saying that having brought confiscation proceedings against you for the £11,000, which related to costs, did it, of the criminal –

Janet Skinner: I don’t know, it was just compensation, they was going for.

Ms Hodge: They then subsequently brought separate proceedings against you in relation to this alleged shortfall of £59,000?

Janet Skinner: Yes.

Ms Hodge: I’d like to ask you now a bit about the effect that all of this has had on you?

Janet Skinner: Mm-hm.

Ms Hodge: What was the immediate effect on your livelihood of losing your Post Office salary?

Janet Skinner: Well, I lost my house, lost everything. I couldn’t get a job. Well, I couldn’t get a job, couldn’t go for a job, because I didn’t know if I still had a job, or they was going to find out what had gone wrong and reinstate me, which was a foolish thing to think. But I just – we just lost everything.

Ms Hodge: When you were released from prison, did you have difficulty finding work as a result of your conviction?

Janet Skinner: I didn’t apply for any jobs until the tag was released. How can you go for a job interview when you’ve got a tag on your ankle?

Ms Hodge: What effect did it have on your health?

Janet Skinner: Four weeks after the court hearing had finished in July 2008, I was working at this heating company and I said to one of my friends, I said, “I don’t feel right”. She went, “What do you mean?” I said, “I just don’t feel right”. So we went to see the nurse and she said, “If you don’t think – if you don’t feel right, go see your GP”.

So I went to see my GP. They didn’t have anybody available, so they said, “If you think it’s an emergency, go to A&E”. So she drove me to A&E and, by the time I got to A&E, the full trunk of my body had disappeared. It was like it was gone. It was like I couldn’t feel that it was there.

And I ended up in hospital for just under four months. I had fluid on my spinal cord in three separate areas and it paralysed me from the neck down and they told me I’d never walk again.

Ms Hodge: What had caused this to happen to your body?

Janet Skinner: Just stress, my immune system was so low that my body attacked itself.

Ms Hodge: You did learn to walk again.

Janet Skinner: I did.

Ms Hodge: When did you start being able to stand and walk for yourself?

Janet Skinner: To be fair, they tried to get me on my feet as soon as possible, because all – obviously my nerve endings were damaged. I have temperature problems. I can’t feel temperatures from my chest down. I can’t feel pain properly. I have problems with my hands. I have chronic pain in my back all the time. If I took medication for it to kill it off completely, I probably wouldn’t be sat here today.

Ms Hodge: What impact has this had upon your ability to work?

Janet Skinner: I can’t work. I just can’t get a job because there’s days when I can’t even get out of bed. It’s destroyed life. It’s destroyed my life but, do you know what, I’m a fighter and I’ll fight through things.

Ms Hodge: How have your children been affected by what happened to you?

Janet Skinner: Do you know, we don’t speak about it, and we genuinely don’t speak about it, and we never speak about me being in jail. It’s just easier not to talk about what’s happened, rather than to keep going over what’s happened.

Ms Hodge: You have described reporting of your conviction in the press.

Janet Skinner: Yes.

Ms Hodge: How is your standing in the community affected by your prosecution and conviction?

Janet Skinner: People whisper. You always get the people that say, “Oh, what did she do with the money? You can see she’s lived a high life” and – because you obviously live in a nice house or you drive a nice car, people just assume that’s what you’ve done.

Ms Hodge: When did you discover that you were not the only subpostmistress to have experienced problems with Horizon?

Janet Skinner: It was to do with Seema Misra’s case. I heard about her case on the news, so I contacted Shoosmiths Solicitors and they put me in touch with the JFSA, and that was in 2011/2012.

Ms Hodge: How did you feel to discover that others had been affected like you?

Janet Skinner: At first, I was angry but I was also relieved, because it was good to know that – although you don’t want this to happen to anybody, but it was good to know that it was happening to other people as well.

Ms Hodge: You were one of the 555 Claimants in the Group Litigation?

Janet Skinner: I was part of the mediation scheme, as well, which was 147, which was from 2012 to 2015, and was shut down by the Post Office because of the Second Sight report that they didn’t like.

Ms Hodge: Did you receive any compensation as a result of the mediation scheme?

Janet Skinner: No, the Post Office refused to mediate me.

Ms Hodge: Why was that?

Janet Skinner: I don’t know. They just didn’t feel that I had a case to be mediated. That was during the mediation scheme in 2015.

Ms Hodge: What steps did you take to the overturn your conviction?

Janet Skinner: Well, that was – I joined the GLO, so I was part of the Group Litigation and then to have – when we won the Group Litigation in 2019 I’d already submitted my case to the CCRC in 2015, anyway, but because of – they wanted outcomes of the GLO, obviously, because we won six judgments in total. They then waited five years before they would make a decision, and then, obviously, then they referred my case to the Court of Appeal.

Ms Hodge: When did you discover that your case was being referred to the Court of Appeal?

Janet Skinner: 24 March 2020.

Ms Hodge: Your conviction was quashed on 23 April?

Janet Skinner: I was, yes.

Ms Hodge: On both grounds?

Janet Skinner: Yes, which myself, Tracy and Seema all decided to take for Limb 2, and we had an excellent legal team, Paul Marshall, Flora Page, Nick Gould. I mean, them two there, the two barristers, almost had their careers trashed because of Brian Altman, who brought contempt of court hearings against them.

Ms Hodge: How did you feel when your conviction was quashed?

Janet Skinner: Absolutely elated. I couldn’t – do you know what, if I could have bottled that experience on that day and the joy that it brought, I would have just kept it.

Ms Hodge: Who was present with you at the time when you discovered?

Janet Skinner: Tracy, Seema, Flora. Paul was isolating, Nick was there, Dav was there, the majority of people in this room was there, to be honest.

Ms Hodge: Was your daughter with you?

Janet Skinner: Yes, yes, she was, yes. That was a special moment, that was.

Ms Hodge: Why was that important to you?

Janet Skinner: Because I’ve protected them from it for such a long time and then for her to be able to share that day was just amazing.

Ms Hodge: How do you now feel after everything you’ve gone through about the way that you were treated by the Post Office?

Janet Skinner: I don’t really want to say that, to be honest. It wouldn’t be a nice way of putting it.

Ms Hodge: Do you think that more needs to be done?

Janet Skinner: Absolutely. Do I sit here and think if it hadn’t been for the fact that we fought for Limb 2 and won Limb 2, would this Inquiry have its statutory power, or would it just have been another inquiry that would have just gone through the process and then nothing comes back from it? There’s too many people involved in what’s gone wrong, either it be within the Government, the Royal Mail, the Post Office, the legal system, the defences, the legal teams. So many people that have wronged all these people and destroyed so many people’s lives. We need answers from it.

Ms Hodge: I don’t have any further questions for you, Ms Skinner. Is there anything you’d like to say to the Chair that we’ve not already covered in your evidence?

Janet Skinner: People think that we’re here because of money and people automatically think that all we’re bothered about is compensation. The only thing that compensation will ever change is our financial stability.

We’ve got a life sentence for what’s been done. We will never erase memories of what’s happened over these past 20 years, and it won’t. We’ve got to live with that. But yet you get the people at the top who just basically say “I’m sorry, we made a mistake”. You made a mistake by destroying people. Do you know, Seema was right in what she said, there is a split between them and us. So why is it the people at the top think they have more power? What makes them above the law, above anybody else? If we break the law, we get penalised. They’re breaking the law and nothing comes of it.

Ms Hodge: Thank you very much. Sir, are there any questions you would like to ask Ms Skinner?

Sir Wyn Williams: No, I don’t want to ask her any questions but I would like to say a few words to her. She was one of the first people I met when we were a non-statutory inquiry. It was you, Mr Pound, and Ms Arch, was it not?

Janet Skinner: It was, yes.

Sir Wyn Williams: You told me then something of what you said today and you set me on a train of investigation, which still has a long way to go. So thank you very much for participating in the way that you have in all phases of this Inquiry.

Janet Skinner: Thank you.

Sir Wyn Williams: I think, too, I want to say something directly to the lawyers who assisted the three witnesses today.

When I made my opening remarks, ten days ago now, I thanked the lawyers who had assisted the people who had provided witness statements and who were going to give oral evidence, and that was addressed obviously, primarily at that time, to the lawyers who were in the room, and I don’t think Mr Gould or Ms Page or Mr Marshall were in the room.

So I’d like to tell them publicly that I’m very thankful to all the lawyers who have assisted the people who have had so many difficulties over the years. Thank you.

Ms Hodge: Thank you, sir. That concludes our evidence today and this week. We will be resuming in Cardiff on Tuesday.

Sir Wyn Williams: Yes, and in advance of you all coming to Cardiff, croeso y Cymru or croeso i Gymru – I’d forgotten my mutation – and I will see you all in Wales.

(2.12 pm)

(Adjourned until 11.00 am on Tuesday, 1 March 2022)