A postmistress who was jailed while pregnant told an inquiry the Post Office behaved like a mafia and ‘has blood on its hands’.
Between 2000 and 2015, close to 700 victims were wrongly convicted of taking money from their tills, when computer glitches were to blame.
Seema Misra, 46, was sentenced to 15 months in prison in 2010 despite being eight weeks pregnant with her second child.
On hearing the judge pass sentence, the mother-of-two suffered stomach pain, collapsed in the dock and was taken to hospital.
Seema Misra (pictured with her husband outside court), 46, was sentenced to 15 months in prison in 2010 despite being eight weeks pregnant with her second child
She spent four ‘horrendous’ months alongside terrorists and murderers in Bronzefield Prison, the one-time home of serial killer Rose West.
When Mrs Misra, who had run the post office in Byfleet, Surrey, with her husband since 2005, went into labour she was still wearing her probation tag.
Her picture appeared on the front of the local newspaper under the headline ‘The Pregnant Thief’, leading to her husband being attacked and called ‘a f***ing P***’.
Yesterday she broke down as she told the inquiry into the Post Office IT scandal she would have taken her own life in prison if she had not been pregnant.
She said: ‘Until the last minute I had faith in the system. Prison was a nightmare. I thought I would never come out alive. If I hadn’t been pregnant I would have killed myself.
‘The Post Office was like a mafia. They have blood on their hands. We live in a developed country – how can we let these criminals roam around freely?’
Seema (pictured) is one of close to 700 victims who were wrongly convicted of taking money from their Post Office tills, when computer glitches were to blame
The harrowing testimony came on the tenth day of the inquiry into the scandal, which saw more than 3,500 victims falsely accused of taking cash from branches.
Campaigners fought for nearly two decades to prove dozens of glitches in the Horizon IT system were to blame.
The inquiry has heard it was ‘the worst miscarriage of justice’ in recent history and ‘lives were ruined, families were torn apart, made homeless and destitute, and reputations were destroyed’.
Last week the Daily Mail revealed 33 postmasters had died before getting justice after years of obfuscation, court battles and compensation delays.
Yesterday the inquiry heard from four witnesses. Tracy Felstead, 39, from Telford, Shropshire, was sent to Holloway Prison in 2002 for false accounting of more than £11,500 of ‘missing’ money. She was aged just 19 when she found a prisoner hanging in her cell, the inquiry heard.
Mother-of-two Janet Skinner, 51, was given a nine-month sentence in 2007 after being falsely accused of an accounting error, leading her to lose her family home.
The stress of the ordeal contributed to a rapid decline in her health and temporary paralysis and she is still unable to work.
Stephanie Reilly, 48, was forced into rehab for alcoholism in 2015 after the Post Office threatened her with prosecution over shortfalls.
Yesterday, Seema broke down as she told the inquiry into the Post Office IT scandal she would have taken her own life in prison if she had not been pregnant (stock image)
She estimated she paid back over £15,000 of her own money in total.
The battle for compensation continued in the Commons this week.
Tory MP Andrew Bridgen said: ‘Victims deserve justice and adequate compensation now, not in months and years when the Business Department finally gets its act together.’
Paul Scully, minister for the Post Office, said the process to get compensation to all postmasters was ‘legally complex’.
Primary compensation for postmasters who handed money back, but were not convicted, has been paid out to 764 out of 2,300 applicants.
Of the 72 whose convictions have been overturned, £6.3million has been paid, while negotiations over a larger final settlement continue. More than 550 convicted postmasters are yet to come forward.
The total bill to taxpayers could climb as high as £1billion once compensation and years of legal costs are taken into account.