Preston police force clerk found to be fraudster after untimely death

Local historian Keith Johnson looks at a fraud case from yesteryear..

Saturday, 7th September 2019, 12:00 pm
Updated Saturday, 7th September 2019, 1:00 pm
County Hall where Whitlams frauds were discussed

The Lancashire County Constabulary force can be traced back to December 1839 when Captain F. Woodford took command of operations from their HQ in Preston.

Besides 15 Superintendents controlling the various divisions he had over 330 constables. With a budget of £20,000 per year he created a role of Chief Clerk to oversee the administration and finances.

The first Chief Clerk was George Bower and amongst his predecessors was Thomas Whitlam who was appointed around 1880 after spending 12 years as a serving police officer.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

In 1882 the county force took up residence in the newly built County Hall the premises being used for the Court of Annual General Sessions and for the County Constabulary.

In the rear of the building was a parade ground for the constabulary, an occasional court house and cells for temporary prisoners.

In line with his position of trust Thomas Whitlam and his family were provided with living accommodation within the County Hall grounds.

In January 1907 a telegram was received at the county police HQ informing them that Mr. Whitlam who had travelled by train to Glasgow, supposedly on holiday, the previous day had died.

Apparently on leaving the train he had collapsed on the platform and despite medical assistance died within minutes. A death certificate issued later stating death was due to heart disease.

In the months that followed, in line with the terms of his estate, a number of auction sales were held by local agents E. J. Reed and they showed that he had gathered together a considerable and valuable collection of antiques.

Oil paintings, rare engravings, antiquarian books, sterling silver plate, furniture, pottery and china plate amongst the valuables up for sale.

There had since his death been various rumours abounding that suggested he had not been off on holiday but had left town hastily as the accounts of the county police were under scrutiny from the auditors.

Unfortunately, this was all too true as the public became aware at a meeting of the Lancashire County Council held in the council chamber in early November 1907, chaired by Sir J. T. Hibbert.

When Alderman Wade submitted the report of the Finance Committee he stated it was his painful duty to report a deficit of £1,261 (equivalent to £150,000 in today’s money).

The county auditor had prior to the sudden departure of Mr. Whitlam asked him for clarification over certain deficiencies in the police accounts. In the full investigation that followed serious defalcations came to light and after the estate of the Chief Clerk had been wound up there was still the outstanding monies.

All the investigations had full exonerated the Chief Constable from any legal responsibility and therefore it was necessary to make up the shortfall out of the general county funds.

The county auditor Wade Deacon then stated that Whitlam had paid into the police pension fund the sum of £215, a sum that would be forfeited.

Likewise, because the Chief Clerk had died and later been found guilty of misconduct the payment of £1,137 that would have normally been paid to his widow would not be granted.

The widow Whitlam moved to Blackpool later where she died in May 1912, aged 60.

Following the defalcations a new system of keeping the accounts had been introduced and before the meeting ended the auditing staff were praised for their work in bringing the matter to light.

By this time the ever expanding county police annual budget had grown to almost £200,000.