When Seema Misra stood in the dock at the Crown Court in Guildford on Monday 11th October 2010, she was expecting justice to be seen, to be heard and to be done, and when that happened she would be found not guilty of theft. Eleven days later, when the jury returned to deliver their verdict of Guilty, albeit after lengthy deliberations, it was abundantly clear to everyone surely other than the Jury that justice had not been served. In a criminal case, it must be proven beyond reasonable doubt, that Seema had stolen the amount that was missing. No evidence was put to the court that proved anything other than a shortage in the accounts of West Byfleet Post Office existed.
Even the Judge in his summing up commented on the fact that despite investigations, with freely provided access to her assets by Seema, there was no evidence of any inexplicable expenditure. No evidence was provided to support the concept put forward by Post Office Ltd that the missing amount was physical cash. Yes, it could be said, her defence was extremely weak, but she clearly had no idea where the missing amount was either. If she could have proven that then she would have had no case to answer.
It is possible, even probable, that the amount that went missing was down to inexperience in running a Post Office and that under the terms of her contract she was liable to pay Post Office the amount of the discrepancy, but the point is that that is a DEBT not THEFT. The discrepancy could also have been the result of an error in Horizon and the prosecution made a very distinct point to the jury which I am certain eliminated that possibility from their thinking. They said that if there had been an error in Horizon Ms Misra would have certainly noticed it. Totally and utterly absurd. Under what circumstances could Post Office Ltd possibly bring a prosecution for a criminal offence against a subpostmaster whose defence questioned the efficacy of the computer system they were forced to use, when they knew perfectly well that errors had existed in the system from day one of its rollout that the majority of subpostmasters had failed to notice?
And that is the real question this trial needs to answer.
I have really struggled with coming up with possible reasons why this has happened, until recently.
A comment was made about one of the key witnesses in Seema’s trial. A person who had met him, suggested he found him to be likeable and a man of great integrity. No possibility then that this witness had deliberately set out to deceive the court, but on the other hand he could only answer the questions that were put to him. I would add to that a personal opinion, that over the years I have had dealings with Post Office Ltd staff from top to bottom, and with only one exception (mentioned in a previous blog post) I have found them to be really nice people who clearly share the same love of the Post Office network that I do.
I would say that the majority of Post Office Ltd employees don’t just tow the party line; they believe the party line to be true. I was there in that position too. I really believed that there were no problems with Horizon and if and when errors occurred POL would fix them and make sure I didn’t lose out too. The trouble with that scenario is that there is no-one, it seems, within Post Office Ltd that questions the now quite obvious problems with what they perceive to be the truth.
That premise though leads to a conundrum that I have only just remembered exists (I am a bit slow on the uptake sometimes) and it came to me after I inadvertently tweeted about it yesterday. If everybody in POL, from Tim Parker down, really believes in the fallacy that Horizon and POL are perfect in every way, and 500+ claimants are guilty as sin then:
WHO IS RESPONSIBLE FOR STOPPING THE SECOND SIGHT INVESTIGATION AND WHY DID THEY DO SO?
IN LIGHT OF EVIDENCE SUBMITTED TO COURT WHY HAVE SECOND SIGHT NOT BEEN ASKED TO CONTINUE WHERE THEY LEFT OFF?
Does the truth hurt?
Answers on a postcard for those questions, hopefully the Judge will wonder this too, but I am not sure if or how the answers could be revealed in court. Perhaps now would be a very prudent time for at least one of these ‘really nice people’ to start questioning the truth as they perceive it and shed a little light on what is actually happening in the murky waters surrounding Horizon and the desperately unfair treatment dished out to Subpostmasters.