“Cast a cold eye on life, on death…” (2)

An occasional series of vignettes of the past, drawn from the archives I use.

On 14 October 1958 Mr G Knight, Deputy Clerk of the Middlesex County Council wrote to the Clerk, Kenneth Goodacre, seeking a ruling. When the Middlesex Local Area Health Committee for Ealing and Acton had met on 18 September, the Joint Area Medical Officer raised the case of a Mrs Goble, employed in the committee’s Acton office. Mrs Goble had opened a parcel of clinical thermometers to find that one of them had broken. Her hands, and the three gold rings she was wearing, were covered in mercury. She had to have the rings cleaned at a cost of ten and sixpence. She now claimed this sum from the County Council. The Area Committee’s Clerk had said that the claim should be referred to the Clerk of the County Council, in accordance with a memorandum of 1951, although the members of the committee considered that Mrs Goble should be paid. The Joint Area Medical Officer then submitted a written claim by Mrs Goble but was told that as there was no evidence that the thermometers had been negligently packed no payment could be made.

It then transpired that the Chairman of the Local Area Health Committee had discussed the matter with the Chairman of the County Health Committee, County Alderman Bernard Rockman, who had said “very forcibly” that Mrs Goble should be paid and that if the County Council would not pay her he would do so himself and take a chance on the County Council reimbursing him.

The 1951 memorandum on ex gratia payments had resulted from a resolution of the Finance Committee, which laid down that the Clerk might settle claims against the council by its employees of up to £50 subject to a report to that committee; claims should therefore be submitted to no other committee, sub-committee or divisional executive. The resolution had been interpreted as permitting payment only when an employee’s financial loss was incurred in the course of duties involving the protection of persons and property. Recent claims had been trivial in themselves but there had been many of them. Their number, and the need for a uniform policy, were the reason why the power to deal with them had been delegated to the Clerk by the Finance Committee. Mr Knight suggested he should write to Bernard Rockman summarising this position. “Do you agree please?” he asked.

A clearly irritated Kenneth Goodacre, who did not normally handle administrative matters himself, now replied in his own handwriting, scribbled on Mr Knight’s typed memorandum:

Whilst not influenced by Mr Rockman’s remarks –

I nevertheless sympathise with the view and on the principle “De minimis non curat lex”, I have told the local area health officer to pay Mrs Goble 10/6 out of petty cash – to let me have the receipt so that the County Treasurer can reimburse.

It would have saved everybody’s time & trouble if the Local Area Health M.O. had paid out in the first place & dealt with the matter administratively instead of wasting the Area Health Committee’s time.

(London Metropolitan Archives MCC/CL/CC/3/346)

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