By Steve Smith
It’s hard to believe that a Movement for good might find itself at the mercy of confidence tricksters, and yet Toc H did, many times. Now we are not talking about complex scams worthy of Hustle or Now You See Me, but the name of Toc H being taken in vain by those who would try to make personal gain from it. Pretty much the earliest example seems to be reported in the Toc H News Sheet of October 1921 when the magazine warns of a man using the name Rodney Stubbs and claiming to be a member of Toc H who was approaching members with tales of woe and borrowing money. Stubbs was described as being 6 feet tall and missing his left leg and eye, and walking with the use of crutches. He was put up at Mark III near Waterloo for six weeks but returned this generosity by ‘doing certain things that no member of Toc H would”. The mind boggles! He was given his marching orders by Mark III and a warning was sent to other members not to be taken in by him.
Stubbs may well have been using his real name as five years earlier, someone of that name who claimed to be ex-East Surrey regiment and about to join the Royal Flying Corps but was actually a deserter, was prosecuted for obtaining money by false pretences from various clergymen. In late 1920, almost a year before he chanced his arm with Toc H, he was charged with passing a forged cheque and obtaining board and lodgings by false pretences. His chastisement by Toc H clearly didn’t stop him and in 1924 he was sentenced to three months imprisonment for further convictions for the same offence, and prosecuted again in 1934. It seems our Mr Stubbs just couldn’t help himself.
In April 1928, members were told that two men had been blagging money out of Toc H. Charles Ayres claimed to be a member of Leicester branch as well as ex-RFC, whilst a Mr Rivers aka A J Davis, carried a copy of the Toc H Journal and a letter from the warden of Mark XVI Swindon as ‘proof’ of his credibility and asked for money.
The following month all members were warned that D.F. Handcock, a former resident of Mark I, was claiming to be a member of Toc H – which he wasn’t – and obtaining loans from other members and their families. He was described as 5’ 8”, thin, fair and spoke with a lisp! The same year Ernest Henley, aged 26, already known to Mark VII, Edinburgh and Leeds Branches was identified as “one who will not work and leaves owing money.”
In 1930 Branches and Groups are warned against Captain Francis Pineo, representing himself a member of Wellington Branch, N Z, and Adamson claiming to be of Hull branch. Then in 1932, against W. Matthews, often purporting to be R. C. (Dick) Matthews, Secretary of Kentish Town group, with whom he had no connection.
Two decades later it was still going on when in 1951 members were warned against lending money to Tom (or Tony) Mitchell Martin and were warned to inform the police if he approached them. In 1957, he was sentenced to two years imprisonment at Rugby Magistrates Court for a string of offences involving taking money by deception. In 1952, Edwin Victor Heath was jailed for six months after falsely obtaining £1 from Gloucester Toc H (amongst other similar crimes).
It was clearly not an isolated thing. Perhaps the good nature of Toc H made them be seen as a soft touch!
A deception of a different sort and with a far more tragic outcome was that perpetrated by William Stapleton Turner that culminated in the summer of 1926. Turner was very involved with both Toc H and the Boy Scouts in Bromley, Kent. He described himself as Brigadier-General Turner and often related tales of his time in France, Mesopotamia, and Salonika including how he was gassed on the first day of the Somme. He also claimed a DSO which he wore on his uniform along with various other medals.
In fact it was all a sham. Turner was the son of a Peckham tailor who joined the Royal Artillery as a Gunner and was a temporary Lieutenant when discharged in 1919. He became involved with the Boy Scouts shortly afterwards and this is when his Walter Mitty lifestyle seemed to begin. It would be Toc H that would be his undoing. He joined Toc H and was soon elevated to Secretary of the local branch. However, his behaviour was seen by some as suspicious and he was asked to attend a meeting of the branch to discuss allegations and rumours. The date of this meeting just so happened to be 1st July 1926, the 10th anniversary of the first day of the Somme.
A few hours before the meeting Turner obtained the key for Keston Scout Hut from a Mrs Lewis who lived across the street. He told her not to worry if she heard shots fired because he intended to set up a rifle range for the boys and arrange some shooting practice. At around 12noon, Mrs Hills next door to the hut did hear a shot and went around to investigate. She first found Kenneth Wright, a man formerly connected to Bromley Scouts and then staying with Turner. He told her that the General had shot himself and ran off to fetch the police and a doctor. Mrs Hill then went behind the hut and found Turner there with a bullet wound to the head and a service revolver on the ground next to him. He died soon afterwards.
There was much mystery surrounding his life and his death but it was generally accepted that he took his own life. Most chose to remember the good work he had done for the Scouts and Toc H over everything else and in a letter to the newspapers Tubby said,
“His secrets and sufferings are over. Let us allow the many who mourn him to hold his memory dear.”
But now let’s close this short blog with a tale of how one person who came to Toc H was not all he claimed to be but whose unmasking led to changes in the law. In 1981 Colin Evans was introduced to Toc H by his probation officer. The Movement, after all, had a good record working with offenders. Toc H were not told about his convictions. In 1982, with the full knowledge of the Berkshire Social Services, Toc H placed Evans as a childminder for a family with three children. In June of that year Social Services learned that Evans’ previous convictions were for offences against children. They did not pass the information on to Toc H. In 1983 Evans abducted and killed 4-year-old Marie Paine. He also attempted to abduct several more children. At this time, police checks on volunteers were somewhat random and made difficult by unwieldy card-based systems. This tragic case led to the introduction of the Criminal Records Bureau and computerised systems (and what is now the Disclosure and Barring Service). Just to be very clear, no blame was attached to Toc H for this dreadful series of events.
Whilst we are on this slightly distasteful subject, we can’t ignore the fact that – in common with a great many other organisations – Toc H had a longstanding relationship with Jimmy Saville. This is something I was personally involved in at one time. It just goes to show that when it comes to safeguarding, we must always ensure we never take our eye off the ball.
There we go then, from the workshy and lazy to deceitful and depraved individuals, the history of the Movement is littered with those who wished to pull the wool over Toc H’s eyes. Thankfully these people are really in a considerable minority and the majority of people who have given their time and talents to Toc H over the years have been decent, honest folk. I know, because I am privileged to call many of them my friends.