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Robbery (Compensation Claim)

Volume 236: debated on Thursday 6 March 1930

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asked the Home Secretary whether he has yet been able to discover any means by which compensation can be given to Mrs. Sylvia Machin, of Ilford, who was robbed by a Metropolitan police constable when on duty on his beat, in view of the fact that Mrs. Sylvia Machin is not pecuniarily able to sue the police?

I have looked further into this matter with every desire to take a sympathetic view. According to my information Mrs. Machin stated, after the arrest of the constable, that she had lost two rolls of shirting valued by her at £7. One roll, valued at £1 5s. Id., was identified as her property and returned to her. Therefore the loss that she suffered as a direct consequence of the constable's action was limited, according to her own statement, to £5 14s. 11d. It is true that she said she had lost a contract, but it appears that that was due to her having failed to insure against burglary—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"]—as required by the terms of the contract. She has now insured and recovered the contract. I am further advised that she clearly has no legal claim upon the police inasmuch as it is a well established principle of law that no employer, whether public or private, has any liability for a criminal act of his servant, committed outside the scope of the servant's authority and indeed in violation of his authority. To depart from this principle would be an innovation, the effect of which might extend far beyond the Metropolitan Police, and I can only say that I have been unable to find in the circumstances of the case anything that would justify me in proposing such a departure.

Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that, as a result of the burglary, this poor woman lost her employment for many months, and, therefore, that her loss has been much more than that of the few yards of cloth referred to? She has lost £5 per week in wages for many weeks. In view of the fact that compensation has been given by the Metropolitan Police for wrongful arrest, cannot compensation be given where a policeman in uniform and on his beat robs a poor woman like this?

I have said, in answer to previous questions, that in no like case is there any precedent—[HON. MEMBERS: "Then make one!"] I understand that hon. Members believe that very serious loss has been suffered by this woman. I have no evidence of it. If hon. Members can furnish me with any proof of any such loss, I will try to find a way of affording some recompense.

May I point out that I sent a long letter from Mrs. Machin to the right hon. Gentleman? I have no doubt he kept a copy of it, but he kindly returned it to me. In this letter, the whole of her loss is set out, together with the facts that she has several children, that she is separated from her husband, is entirely responsible for the maintenance of her children and herself, has lost her house because she cannot pay the rent, and is now living with a brother-in-law.

The Home Office cannot accept statements in a letter as proof. But I shall be glad to discuss the terms of that letter with my hon. Friend.

Did not the right hon. Gentleman say on a previous occasion that he was anxious to meet the views of the House? Is he still prepared to do so?

I said on a former occasion as well as to-day that if any evidence is afforded of anything approaching a condition of ruin I will make further endeavours to afford some recompense for her loss.