HC Deb 02 March 1888 vol 323 cc17-9

asked the President of the Local Government Board, Whether a Memorial has been presented to the Board from Coventry, asking for an inquiry into the conduct of the late elections of Guardians for the City of Coventry; whether a statutory declaration of Mrs. Ward, the wife of the late workhouse master, accompanied the Memorial, in which she alleged that a conspiracy had existed between certain of the Guardians and the master to carry Conservatives at the last three elections of Guardians, by burning Liberal voting papers, and introducing into the counting room voting papers forged in the names of Conservatives; whether it was also alleged by her, that during the 1886 elections the medical officer, Dr. Iliffe, took the impression in wax of the lock of the strong room, in which the voting papers were deposited, and that at the election of 1887 a clerk named Oswin filled in voting papers with the names of Conservatives; whether Ward, the late master of the workhouse, who has now absconded, has made a statement corroborating his wife's allegations, and admitting that he himself burned the Liberal voting papers; whether Oswin at first entirely confirmed Mrs. Ward's statement, and admitted that he had forged 50 or 60 voting papers in the names of Conservatives in the election of 1887, although he now repudiates his admission, and alleges it to be false; whether Dr. Iliffe has admitted in his letter to the Board that he took the impression in wax of the lock of a safe at the workhouse, although giving an innocent reason for the act; whether the voting papers of the 1887 election, among which are those alleged to have been forged by Oswin, are at the present time in the custody of the Guardians; and, whether he has refused to direct an inquiry to be held, and whether he will reconsider his decision?

THE SECRETARY (Mr. LONG)(who replied) (Wilts, Devizes)

said: The Local Government Board have had several communications with reference to the election of Guardians for the Coventry Union. Mrs. Ward, the wife of the late master of the workhouse, has made allegations to the effect of those referred to in the Question. The late master appears to have absconded about May last, when there were defalcations in his accounts; and the statement made by him in corroboration of his wife's allegations was forwarded to the Board from California, where it is supposed he still is. The boy Oswin made a statement which supported Mrs. Ward's allegations; but when he was taken to a Commissioner for the purpose of verifying a declaration which had been prepared, he at once said that the statement was not true, and the declaration was not made. This denial has since been made by him in the form of a statutory declaration. Dr. Iliffe, who has been the medical officer of the workhouse 10 years, states that the master said that a duplicate key of his safe in which he kept the petty cash had been lost, and that an attempt was made to take an impression of the key in wax. Two persons who were present at the time have made statutory declarations confirming Dr. Iliffe's statement as to the purpose for which the wax impression was attempted to be made. I have no reason to doubt that the voting papers in the election of 1887 are in the custody of the Guardians. The only persons with regard to whom the Board have any jurisdiction, and against whom allegations have been made, are the clerk to the Guardians and Dr. Iliffe, the medical officer of the workhouse. The allegations affecting these officers are emphatically denied by them; and the Board, after carefully considering the several declarations and other statements which have been submitted to them, are of opinion that, at present, there is no such corroboration of the allegation of Mrs. Ward as would justify them instituting any formal inquiry into the matter.

In answer to a further Question from Mr. BALLANTINE,


said, that the charge had been brought by only one person, whose evidence did not appear to be very reliable, and was not corroborated by anyone exept the lad Oswin, who, on being asked to make a statutory declaration, had withdrawn everything that he had said.