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‘Going to prison hit me’: Victims relive wrong convictions in Post Office scandal

The Post Office scandal is coming under renewed scrutiny following a TV drama into how a computerised accounting system ruined the lives for many staff and their families.

More than 700 Post Office branch managers were given criminal convictions after faulty Fujitsu accounting software – called Horizon – made it appear as though money was missing from their shops.

Justice Secretary Alex Chalk and postal minister Kevin Hollinrake will discuss the scandal in the wake of renewed scrutiny following the conclusion of the four-part ITV drama, Mr Bates Vs The Post Office.

Lord Arbuthnot, who was an MP at the time of the scandal, told Sky News: “One of the greatest problems is that there have been between 700 and 900 convictions of sub-postmasters and only 93 have been overturned.

“That is an awfully small, pathetically small, number.”

Latest updates – sub-postmasters ‘failed by virtually every sector of society’

Here, we look at some of the circumstances and responses of some of the victims of the Horizon scandal.

Noel Thomas arrives at the International Dispute Resolution Centre in London for the Post Office Horizon IT inquiry. Picture date: Monday February 14, 2022.

Image: Noel Thomas

Noel Thomas

The 77-year-old from Anglesey was a former sub-postmaster who was wrongfully convicted.

His conviction of false accounting in 2006 was overturned by the Court of Appeal in 2021.

In the ITV drama, which ended on Thursday, Mr Thomas was played by actor Ifan Huw Dafydd.

While Mr Thomas is glad more people know what happened to him, he told Sky News some scenes were difficult to relive.

He said: “Going into the cell hit me. Because, unfortunately, I was sent to Walton [a prison in Liverpool].

“Thank heavens I was only there for two days.

“But I was locked up. I was only let out to get food. Half an hour at lunchtime and half an hour to three quarters at night.

“The rest of the time I was locked up.”

Mr Thomas said he has “discussed very little about being inside” with his family.

“I’ve kept it more or less to myself, and the way I’ve dealt with it is we live in a lovely place in Anglesey and we go out and walk a lot,” he said.

“I’ve spoken with some of my friends – they’ve been shocked to see what’s come out.”

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April 2021: Sky News speaks to the postmistresses who were wrongly convicted

Seema Misra

Initially found guilty of stealing £75,000 from the post office she ran in West Byfleet, Surrey – Seema Misra’s conviction was later quashed by judges at the Court of Appeal.

She was wrongly jailed on her son’s 10th birthday and told Sky News she only resisted suicide because she was pregnant with another child.

“We had been trying for another baby for seven or eight years so it should have been the happiest moment for us,” she said.

“Instead, prison was the worst experience of my life.

“If this thing can happen to me, we’re not living in the right world.”

Jo Hamilton

The sub-postmistress in South Warnborough, Hampshire, previously told Sky News of the pressure she faced to plead guilty.

She said she felt “backed into a corner”.

“I felt I had a gun held to my head and had no choice,” added Ms Hamilton.

“They said if I pleaded guilty to false accounting and paid the £36,000 shortfall, they would drop the theft charge.”

Ms Hamilton was played in the ITV drama by Monica Dolan.

“I was so terrified of going to prison, I couldn’t think of anything else. It was terrifying,” Ms Hamilton added.

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Martin Griffiths

The father of two, was pursued by the Post Office for alleged shortfalls of £60,000.

The third episode of the TV drama shows how the establishment of a mediation scheme came too late for him as he took his own life.

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February 2022: Baljit Sethi gives evidence at the Horizon inquiry

Baljit Sethi

In February 2022, at the beginning of the public inquiry into how hundreds of Post Office staff were wrongly prosecuted, Baljit Sethi told how he considered taking his own life.

He ran a post office near Romford, Essex, for 22 years until he was sacked over account shortfalls.

He told the hearing: “I was down and out, I contemplated suicide, but I thought no, that’s the easy way out, what about my family and my children?

“People in our community believed we had been robbing from the Post Office.”

Anyone feeling emotionally distressed or suicidal can call Samaritans for help on 116 123 or email [email protected] in the UK. In the US, call the Samaritans branch in your area or 1 (800) 273-TALK.