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    Post Office scandal: Former boss apologises to Seema Misra

    Former sub-postmistress Seema Misra, who was wrongly imprisoned, poses for a photograph at her home in Knaphill on January 12, 2024. (Photo by HENRY NICHOLLS/AFP via Getty Images)

    Former Post Office boss David Smith today (11) at the Horizon scandal inquiry apologised to former sub-postmistress Seema Misra and her family for the substantial upset an email caused in which he appeared to celebrate her conviction.

    The sub-postmistress was pregnant when she was sentenced to 15 months in prison in 2010 – a decision which the Post Office managing director described as “brilliant news” in an email to colleagues at the time.

    Smith said at the inquiry, “First of all I’d just like to palace on record an apology to Seema Misra and family because of the way this has been perceived and portrayed subsequently and looking at it though their eyes rather than through mine, you can see that it may have caused substantial upset and I really do apologise for that.”

    Smith told the inquiry that the email reflected what he “generally” did in business by thanking his team.

    “In the benefit of hindsight and looking through the 2024 lens not the 2010 lens at best from Seema Misra’s perspective, you can see this is really poorly thought through – and I do apologise again for that,” he added.

     “I would absolutely never think that it was `brilliant news’ for a pregnant woman to go to prison and I am hugely apologetic that my email can be read as such.”

    Smith further said the conviction of Misra was seen as a successful “test of the Horizon system”.

    In his witness statement, Smith said that following the August 2010 publication of the Rod Ismay report he did “not think that we thought that there was any merit in commissioning a further report by an IT expert or a forensic accountant or similar to test the reliability of Horizon.”

    He described the report’s position as “clear-cut” and said there was “nothing in it which suggested” the Post Office should investigate Fujitsu or Horizon Further.

    When questioned on this, he referred to the conviction of Misra as affirming this decision.

    Smith told the inquiry, “As we now know wrongly, but at the time, we saw the Seema Misra case as a test of the Horizon system and it had come through that.”

    Furthermore, Smith today (11) suggested that he is partly to blame for the Horizon scandal – telling the inquiry it was “very sad” that he did not flag the risk of conducting prosecutions “in-house”.

    In his witness statement, the former Post Office managing director wrote of how the “the practice of prosecuting those who have demonstrably been shown to have stolen” from the Post Office were “already well-established long before” his arrival.

    Smith said, “I cannot recall thinking that any risk or compliance issues arose from POL [Post Office Ltd] undertaking this role, but with the benefit of hindsight, and in light of the wrongful prosecutions, I can see the inherent risks in the prosecutions taking place ‘in house’ and not by an independent enforcement authority.”

    When asked about why he didn’t identify those risks at the time, Smith said, “Well, with hindsight it’s obviously very sad because, had we identified those risks, we might have been able to put in place better control mechanisms, better inspection mechanisms of governance and we didn’t.”

    “I certainly think I am a part of it. As I said the structures were there before I came. They were certainly not changed while I was there and along with the rest of the executive team, we did review the risk registers, we didn’t flag  this as a potential new risk to think about. But ultimately I managed that process.”

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