Petty Crime

Petty Crime

I had a client in Plymouth who was head of the City Planning Committee and for a living he owned a very busy newsagent and toyshop.

One lunch time I happened to meet him and he was clutching his back in some pain.  “You know”, he said, “I have spent the morning cooped up in a cubby hole behind the cash register and bending down to watch a girl we suspect is pocketing the takings”: Well I have never gone to those lengths, but I have suffered my share of petty crime, in common with, I suspect, most veterinary practices.

In most businesses, money comes in from many sources and it is very difficult to ensure that all of it finds its way into the till.  The Victorians had one answer, by pricing items at 11 3/4 pence or similar the cashier had to open the till to give change and if money was not put in it would be noticed.  Of course the culprit could come to work with a pocketful of farthings.  No system is perfect.  The Victorians also invented that wonderful system of over-head wires, which so fascinated me as a boy, whereby the salesman put the cash and bill into a pot of two halves, screwed it into an overhead railway and pulled a cord.  It would then travel across the store to a cashier sat high in a tiny high office across the store.  She would then return the receipt and change by the same route.  There was still one of those systems in the local store when I was a lad.  Today, when cash is used less and less these matters lose importance, but the digital world has opened up new avenues for criminals.  Then there is the matter of money going out from the till.  There are always items of petty cash to be spent.  One time my partner and I noticed we were spending an excess amount on postage stamps.  We soon found that one member of staff was just writing “Stamps” on the till then pocketing the money.  In most cases a quiet warning was sufficient, but one young lady took it too far and we had to call in the police.  It transpired that to impress her boy-friend, with whom she was besotted, she told him she had a highly paid job and helped herself to our money to prove it.  A young detective in charge was anxious to make a case.  She even found the pub where he liked to drink and offered him sexual favours to drop the case.  She left.

Another scam was much more serious, or could have been.  My Head Nurse, hitherto much trusted and valued, was discovered to have been helping herself to vaccines and drugs and running a cut price practice with her cat-loving friends on the side.  It was discovered because she fell out with her partner and moved out.  Her partner requested that she removed her illicit haul and receiving no response then dumped the whole lot out with the rubbish.  The bin men then handed it all over to their superiors.  It was then passed into the hands of a colleague who very kindly returned it all quietly to me.  It could have finished her career, but I have never felt able to do that to anyone, and it was partly my fault in being so trusting.  You may think it was all too easy going but the alternative was to make everyone sign for everything 

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Ken Watson's career as a vet started many moons ago, after he'd attended Royal Veterinary College at Camden Town. Ken came to work at Sidmouth in 1953 at Steele & Wardrop (now Ikin & Oxenham). Subsequently Ken set up his own practice at Plymouth in 1961 before retiring in 1992. His pieces graphically map out the changes that have taken place in the veterinary business over the years and also allow great insight into human behaviour.