• Monday, October 02, 2023

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Post Office racism: Pregnant British Asian postmistress was wrongly accused and jailed

Seema Misra who was pregnant with her second child at the time, expressed anger upon learning about the recent revelations regarding her wrongful conviction for theft

Seema Misra (Image Credit: Sky News)

By: Kimberly Rodrigues

A pregnant victim was wrongly imprisoned during a Post Office accounting scandal involving over 700 former Post Office staff, based on prosecution documents that contained a racially discriminatory classification.

Seema Misra, a postmistress, who managed a post office in Surrey, received a 15-month prison sentence for theft after being accused of manipulating financial records in 2020, The Times reported.

However, it was later revealed that the alleged £74,000 shortfall was actually a result of software glitches in the Horizon accounting system.

The Court of Appeal overturned Misra’s conviction in April 2021 denouncing the prosecutions as an abuse of process and an affront to justice.

The scandal involved the wrongful prosecution of over 700 postmasters and mistresses, who were owner-managers of local branches, for crimes such as theft, fraud, and false accounting based on unreliable data from the Horizon software.

However, it was found that in a 2008 Post Office fraud investigation report related to Misra’s case, an “identification code” was included.

Recently published official guidance, prompted by a freedom of information request, obtained by campaigner Eleanor Shaikh provided the meaning of the code.

It instructed staff to racially classify suspects using terms like “negroid types . . . i.e., West Indian, Nigerian, African, Caribbean, etc.” The guidance also included categories such as “Arabian/Egyptian types,” “Chinese/Japanese types,” and “dark-skinned European types.”

Misra was categorised as “Indian/Pakistani Types . . . i.e., Asian, etc.” in an investigator’s report, recently discovered.

Misra who was pregnant with her second child at the time, expressed anger upon learning about the recent revelations regarding her wrongful conviction for theft.

She is quoted as saying, “Now I think, because they had a racist thing in their mind, my case could have been different if I wasn’t Indian.”

“We had to move. We lost everything, to be honest – we lost the business, we lost everything. We lost our dignity, lost our pride, everything.”

The Post Office has acknowledged the racist and unacceptable nature of the terms used in the guidance, issuing an apology and launching an internal investigation.

The document remained in use until at least 2014.

Misra expressed her belief that this racially biased document was part of her prosecution file, suggesting its role in her wrongful imprisonment.

She questioned the fairness of the investigator’s decision-making process when race was a factor and viewed it as another instance of an abusive legal process.

She said, “This document shows there is corruption from top to bottom. I definitely believe the Post Office was institutionally racist.”

Mishra’s barrister Paul Marshall, has criticised the Post Office for adopting such policies in 2010, and expressed astonishment.

Post Office CEO Nick Read too recently expressed shock and distress at the racist terminology used in the historical document and offered a 24-hour helpline to franchise partners affected by the situation.

A Post Office spokesperson has condemned the language and classifications found in the “historic document,” categorising them as abhorrent.

It is also reported that the Post Office has initiated an investigation to determine how these codes, previously used by the police and others to record an individual’s background, came to be included in the guidance for a historical department of the Post Office.

To date, 85 out of the 700 wrongfully prosecuted postmasters have had their convictions overturned.

Eastern Eye

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