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Inspector of Taxes (Conduct)

Part of Clause 2 – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 4th December 1968.

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Photo of Mr Tom Iremonger Mr Tom Iremonger , Ilford North 12:00 am, 4th December 1968

The House will be grateful to the Financial Secretary for attending to answer this debate after answering long and detailed debates in two all-night sittings on the Bill which has just been passed. I thank him personally very much for the careful and thorough attention he has given to secondary details of the case which I have to put to the House, details which it will not be necessary to discuss this morning in the Chamber. The hon. Gentleman and I have discussed at length the matter which I wish to raise, but the House will wish me to explain the background in a brief narrative.

My constituent, Mrs. Doris Richards, is a soldier's widow with a family of young sons whom she was working to support. She was a temporary civil servant working in the office of one of Her Majesty's Inspectors of Taxes. The Inspector made the suggestion, which she gratefully accepted, that he should give one of her sons tuition in mathematics. The boy visited the Inspector's flat for this purpose for some time, during which the Inspector took advantage of the arrangement to assault him sexually.

The boy eventually told his elder brother, who told his mother. She caused proceedings to be instituted. The Inspector pleaded guilty and was given no sentence by the court. He was transferred by his Civil Service superiors to a similar post in another area.

Mrs. Richards was outraged at this, and it so preyed on her mind that she eventually suffered a complete breakdown. Because of her absences from work through ill health she eventually lost her ob as a temporary civil servant. She now has great difficulty, in continuing ill health, in getting and keeping any job. She has been reduced to near destitution and dependence on public agencies for moral and financial support. This is the tragedy of a brave and capable woman absolutely broken by the devastating psychological shock of betrayal by the authority in which she had put her trust and of seeing, as it appears to her, the wicked flourish like the green bay tree.

I want to ask the Financial Secretary two things. Firstly, that he should arrange an independent medical examination of Mrs. Richards and of her case history, to establish the degree to which the conduct of her superior officer was responsible for precipitating her breakdown, and, in that connection, I ask for an undertaking that she be compensated from public funds, as may be appropriate to the degree of responsibility established. After all, if a workman's life is wrecked by a fall from defective scaffolding his employer is liable for compensation, and I cannot see that the analogy with the wreckage of this woman's life is too far fetched.

I should add just one thing. If I have been less than precise in describing Mrs. Richard's medical case history it is not because I failed to make proper inquiries about it, but simply because I do not think it fitting or fair to reveal all that has been confided to one about private and intimate matters. That is all I want to say about Mrs. Richards personally.

The second thing I want to ask the Financial, Secretary concerns the public service, and it is simply that the Inspector in question should be dismissed.

The seduction was—it could have been nothing less—a calculated, deliberate plan conceived by an inveterate paederast to inveigle this child into becoming his established catamite. The child in question was the child of a woman not only subordinate to the Inspector in the disciplinary hierarchy, but also peculiarly vulnerable by reason of her widowhood and her financial responsibilities.

The violation of the slowly maturing personality of a child by a sexually mature person—for that is the nature of the offence, and the gender of the parties is of secondary importance—is an act of callous cruelty however we look at it. If we do not like to look at it from the point of view of John Gordon in the Sunday Express, we can look at it from the angle of Boris Nabokov. For no one has ever explained it more poignantly and perceptively than he did in his novel "Lolita". Altogether it would be impossible to imagine conduct more dishonourable, and, in the context of the public service, more unpardonable. And besides, by the nature of his office, an Inspector of Taxes, inevitably sensitive and susceptible to pressures and blackmail, should be required to be, as much as any officer of the Crown, sans peur et sans reproche.

Music hall jokes apart, I think the general opinion in this country is that we are exceptionally well served by the officers of the Inland Revenue. Our tax inspectors are men of absolute integrity, I really believe, as well as of outstanding calibre of brain and mind. It is important that this standard should be jealously maintained, and it is important that it should be seen to be jealously maintained. I do not think that the sense of outrage and injustice expressed by the unhappy Mrs. Richards is in the least unreasonable. I think she has evinced a surer instinct for the true best interests and health of the public service than did the more merciful senior officials who decided not to dismiss this officer.

I think a grave error of judgment was committed. It would be bad enough if no one had noticed or cared, but, in the circumstances, it cannot fail to undermine confidence in the standard demanded of public servants in responsible posts. It is painful and embarrassing for any hon. Member of this House to tread so close to the boundary of the Civil Service sanctuary, and I have been careful to avoid identifying any individual, to the extent that I could not myself, if asked, say who the officer is or where he is posted. I am not even aware of his name. I have no wish to pillory anyone. But I am concerned to protest against what seems to me a sinister indication of the lowering of standards required in servants of the Crown. I hope, therefore, that the Minister will be able to say that the officer concerned will be removed from the Service, to mark the gravity of this offence.