HC Deb 15 December 1943 vol 395 cc1522-4
14. Captain Marsden

asked the Secretary of State for Air whether his attention has been called to the pilferage and theft of deceased Air Force officers' effects before they were returned to the officers' next of kin; and whether he is taking steps to frustrate this practice?

Captain Balfour

Every complaint of pilfering or theft of the effects of deceased Air Force personnel is carefully investigated and I am glad to say only rarely have proved to be well-founded. The effects of personnel who become casualties are immediately collected by an officer detailed for this work; listed and kept in safe custody pending despatch, under seal, to the R.A.F. Depository which receives and checks them and arranges for their proper disposal. This difficult and exacting work is entrusted to personnel of proved integrity. Items of personal property are, of course, often carried into the air and the circumstances of the casualty may be such as to prevent their recovery. If my hon. and gallant Friend has a particular case of loss in mind and will let me have details, I will gladly look into it.

Captain Marsden

I will send my right hon. and gallant Friend plenty of facts. May I ask him whether he is aware that since I put this Question on the Paper I have had letters from all over the country showing that this particularly awful crime is very prevalent?

Captain Balfour

I must really refute the over-statement of my hon. and gallant Friend. I have looked into these matters very carefully, and I think the House will be glad to hear that the total number of complaints received is less than one quarter of one per cent. of the kits we deal with. Where things do go wrong sometimes I am very willing to look into the system, and into individual cases, when they are sent to me by my hon. Friends.

Mr. Bellenger

Is the Minister aware that these cases are not so uncommon as he imagines, that newspaper offices in this country continually receive complaints, and that not always do the bereaved parents think fit to write to the Air Ministry and give facts that can be investigated?

Captain Balfour

If hon. Members or anyone else will write to me, I shall be only too glad to investigate the complaints. I do not think any hon. Member can say that I do not investigate cases which are brought to my notice. When I have investigated the complaints which are sent to newspaper offices I have not always found that they were justified.

Mr. George Griffiths

Has the right hon. and gallant Gentleman forgotten the case I sent to him about eight months ago, because I have heard nothing about it since? It was a typical case similar to that put by the hon. and gallant Member who asked the Question. I am waiting very patiently, and so is the mother of the lad who was killed.

Captain Balfour

I do not recollect the hon. Member's case, but if he sent it to me personally, I can only apologise that it has not been dealt with. Perhaps he has not written to me. I try to deal with every case carefully.

Mr. A. Edwards

Might not a quarter of one per cent. be a very considerable number of complaints? Although the right hon. and gallant Gentleman has not investigated cases of mine, I wish he would make it clear that there will be very severe penalties.

Captain Balfour

Very severe penalties indeed. If ever we can detect anybody committing this despicable crime, they will be dealt with very severely indeed.