1908: Haywards Heath postmaster's downfall

Updated: Oct 2, 2020

Sussex Agricultural Express - Saturday 15 August 1908.

POSTMASTER'S DOWNFALL.


PROCEEDINGS AT HAYWARDS HEATH.

The news of the arrest of the Haywards Heath Postmaster created a painful sensation in the town, and soon the doors of the Petty Sessional Courthouse in Boltro-road were opened on Thursday morning there was very little standing room left.

Boltro Road Haywards Heath

At eleven o'clock there took their seats upon the Bench, Col. W. H. Campion C.B. (in the chair). Mr. G. C. Hawes, Mr. Mowatt, Mr. Renshaw, K.C., and Mr. Bridge. After a few simple cases had been disposed of, the side door leading from the cells was opened, and there stepped into the dock Frank Matthew Warriner. He was charged on remand, with being a person in charge of certain goods. to wit. £36 8s., the money of the Postmaster-General, and fraudulently converting the same to his own benefit, at Haywards Heath, on July 22nd.


—Mr. R. B. Pope, Brighton, in stating the case for the prosecution, put it very briefly and clearly. He pointed out that prisoner for about twelve years had held the position of postmaster at Haywards Heath, and the charge against him was as to a general deficiency in his accounts. In addition to that he (Mr. Pope) was instructed to prefer a charge with respect to three specified sums, not included in that amount, viz., for telephone rents, which were received by him as postmaster and had not been accounted for. That would be a charge of embezzlement. Having regard to an application Mr. Buckwell proposed to make to the Bench later on, he (Mr. Pope) proposed to take the embezzlement charge first. If they saw fit to accede to the proposed application it would not be necessary to proceed with the other charge.


The accused was thereupon charged with embezzling the sums of £3 3s. received from Mrs Sturdy, of Paxhill, Lindfield, for two years' private bag rent; from Mr. Ward, of the Bent Hotel. Lindfield ; and £5 5s. from Mr. H. Lloyd. Haywards Heath in respect of telephone rentals on behalf of the Postmaster-General, on May 13th. On July 17th accused's general cash was checked and found to correct. 19th July he was at the Post Office for a short time only, and then appeared to have absented himself for three or four days.


On July 23rd the investigating Officer came down with the Assistant Surveyor, and the accused's accounts and the safe were examined Subsequently accused was asked for an explanation with regard to the position of affairs, and he made a statement, which was taken down in writing. With regard to the missing money the whole of it. So far as they knew, had been paid up that morning. The Department had instructed him to say that that sum might be accepted, and that any application made on accused's behalf was not to be opposed. The Department wished to leave the matter entirely in the hands of the Bench.


—Ernest Samuel Harriott, overseer at the Haywards Heath Post Office, bore out Mr. Pope’s statement, and added that when the safe was examined on July 23rd, the stock of stamps and cash were deficient to the amount of £36 8s., and prisoner was suspended.


— George Thomas Ward, Lindfield, said on 13th April he paid accused £5 for telephone rent, and accused was sent the receipt produced that day.


—Evidence was also forthcoming that Mrs. Sturdy and Mr. Lloyd had paid their accounts by cheque.


—Cecil Toulson, of the Accountant-General's Department G.P.O., London, produced the cash sheets sent up from the Haywards Heath Office by prisoner from 3rd January to 20th July. The three amounts of Mrs. Sturdy, Mr. Ward, and Mr. Lloyd, were not accounted for.—William Stratford. clerk in the Investigation Department of the General Post Office, said on July 31st he had an interview with accused at Haywards Heath Post Office. After cautioning him, he asked for particulars of any official moneys he had appropriated. He gave witness a written statement admitting that he appropriated to his own use the moneys received from Mrs. Sturdy, Mr. Ward, and Mr. Lloyd. Prisoner offered to assist the Department in every possible way in clearing up accounts.


—By Mr. Buckwell (for the defence) He gave me every assistance possible in putting things straight. So far as know he made the fullest disclosure revealing everything he could remember. The deficiency was £64 3s. 10d., which had been paid over that morning.


—Frederick Lefevre, assistant surveyor of the South-Eastern District General Post Office, said prisoner had been 28 years in the postal service, his salarv being £280 a year. Until quite recently he was looked upon as a distinctly energetic and capable officer. He held a responsible position at Manchester before coming to Haywards Heath.


—The prosecution having closed their case, Mr. Buckwell said, if the bench would deal with the case on a plea of guilty he would proceed to call one witness.


—Mr. Pope, in answer to the Chairman, said the money taken had been repaid without any invitation, and the Department, if the charge just heard could be dealt with summarily, would not proceed with the other charge


—Mr. Buckwell forcibly appealed to the Bench to deal with the case summarily. The total amount of the deficiency was only £64. of which £16 was, in fact, owing to him for salary—a terribly small deficiency for a man to have ruined himself as accused had done by this peculation. He did not owe £20 in the wide world. He had a house full of furniture and other assets. Whatever had induced him to put himself in the present position one could not for the slightest moment imagine. It was not a case of having to steal for the purpose of paying debts or anything of that sort. For some time he had been in ill-health, and if he had got a doctor’s certificate excusing him from further service in respect of 28 years' service he would have been entitled to a pension of something like £130 a year. All claim to a pension had now been lost. By his conduct over a sum of £64 he had lost, in effect, probably something like £2,000 in pension pay. Over and above all that he had lost his character. Very, very severe was the punishment that was meted out to accused, apart from anything he might suffer at the hands of the Bench. After a brief retirement, the Chairman said the Bench were not without great sympathy for the acccused in this matter. How he came to place himself in this position they were quite a loss to understand. There was, however, hardly a position in public life more important than that of postmaster, and he ought to be above suspicion. The Bench did not think it possible for them to deal with the case that day. It was before the public and must for trial at the Assizes


Prisoner was greatly affected by the decision

The other charge of converting money to his own use was then gone into, the deficiency being £36 8s. 0d. It was stated by prisoner that he alone was to blame. He had spent the money on travelling, cabs, dinners, treating friends, and card playing in trains; also at the Casino, at Boulogne.—


Superintendent Brooman gave evidence of arrest, and finally prisoner was committed for trial at the Assizes in November.