When Adi Misra went to school on his 10th birthday, his pregnant mother told him they would celebrate later.
But his mum was sent to prison that day having been wrongfully accused of stealing £75,000 from the Post Office – and spent nearly five months in jail.
Adi thought she was in hospital and only discovered the truth eight years later. Now aged 23, he says he “hated” his mum for leaving him so abruptly.
Speaking to the BBC, Adi says all the Horizon victims deserve compensation.
11 November, 2010
Adi’s mother, Seema, was the sub-postmistress in West Byfleet, running the village post office and shop at the “heart of the community”. But on Adi’s 10th birthday, everything changed.
Adi’s parents dropped him off at school, telling him they would be back to collect him later when they’d celebrate together.
“It never happened,” he says.
Unknown to Adi, his parents were going to court where his mother was handed a 15-month sentence and sent to Bronzefield women’s prison.
“I didn’t know what was happening. My mum left me and I really hated her for that.”
Adi says he was told his mother – who was pregnant with her second child – was in a “special kind of hospital”.
Only allowed to see her once every two to three weeks for half an hour, he remembers feeling unsettled visiting her in a place where there were no men and everyone wore the same clothes.
“It was very weird,” he says, “I hated it, I genuinely hated it.”
Seema was among the hundreds of UK sub-postmasters and sub-postmistresses wrongfully convicted after the Post Office told them there were shortfalls in their accounts.
But she and her husband Davinder decided not to tell family members – including Seema’s parents in India and Adi their 10-year-old son – what had happened, to protect them from the truth.
As a child Adi remembers feeling confused when the atmosphere changed at school and his friends no longer wanted to hang out at his parents’ shop after lessons.
“After my mum went to prison none of that happened, I didn’t know why,” Adi says. “It affected my school life, it affected my friendships. I had a couple of best friends and they left me – maybe it was their parents that told them not to stay with this guy.”
Adi’s mother Seema was released from prison after serving four-and-a-half months and gave birth to her second child wearing an electronic tag. She and her husband focussed on rebuilding their family life and supporting Adi through his GCSEs and A levels.
But it wasn’t until he was aged 18 and in his first year at university that Seema finally told her eldest son that she had been in prison.
It was 2019 and she was one of 557 claimants to whom the Post Office had recently agreed to pay nearly £58m in compensation.
“I was shocked,” Adi says. “I thought they were joking in the beginning.”
Only after searching Seema’s name did the full extent of what his mother had been through become apparent.
“I saw all of it – I saw everything that had happened,” Adi says. “I saw all the articles – and I couldn’t get my head around it.”
Over time, he learned about how the family had been ostracised by the local community. His mother was labelled a “pregnant thief”, he says, and after her release from prison became so scared about leaving the house that Adi had to start walking home from school alone.
“No-one wanted to be around my parents. All my mum’s friends? They left her. My mum never picked up my brother, never dropped him to any cricket matches – and we never celebrate his birthday because no-one wanted to come.”
Adi also discovered why his father had periodically disappeared while his mother was in prison – he says Davinder had been beaten up by locals who believed he was also involved in the crime for which Seema had been convicted.
Adi – who has now graduated – has come to appreciate what motivated his parents to make the decisions they did. He credits them for striving to give him and his younger brother a “normal” upbringing, despite his mother’s wrongful conviction and her long journey to clear her name.
“I’m doing well now and it’s all thanks to my parents,” he says. “They made sure that whatever happened and whatever the aftermath of prison – I still had a childhood.”
Read more about the Post Office scandal
The long-running inquiry into the Post Office scandal is looking at prosecutions brought against sub-postmasters across the UK.
Between 1999 and 2015, the Post Office prosecuted hundreds of sub-postmasters and mistresses after a faulty computer system made it look like money was missing.
The government has announced a new law to “swiftly exonerate and compensate” all those wrongly convicted.
Although Adi’s mother’s conviction was quashed by the Court of Appeal in 2021, for him that’s just not enough.
“There should be more public recognition that they are genuinely not criminals anymore,” he says. He wants everyone affected by the Horizon scandal to be fairly compensated for all they have lost.
“The post office was our everything,” Adi says. “I remember the life that we used to have – the shop we used to have, the cars we used to have, the properties we used to have – and my parents deserve all that again.”
Listen to Reliable Sauce on BBC Sounds – the week’s biggest stories with the perfect amount of sauce. New episodes every Wednesday.