12 APRIL 1975, Page 24

Crime and cortsequences

Cheque mate

lain Scarlet

Most people still seem to think that the worst crime they can commit is that of being found out. Any other can be easily, but privately, rationalised by the simple excuse of circumstance. We gaily speed through restricted areas, for instance, telling ourselves that we're in a desperate hurry and, anyway, we're damn good drivers. We happily take advantage of the unexpected Surrey teashop where, m sheer ignorance of the licensing laws, they equally happily serve us brandy and benedictine at four o'clock on a Good Friday afternoon, and tell ourselves that we're not. doing anybody else any harm and, anyway, it'll make a jolly good story to dine out on after Easter.

For most of us, that is. But just occasionally there pops up somebody who, feeling he is being treated like a criminal for a crime he has not committed, is prepared to take the bit between his teeth. And damn the risk of unfavourable publicity!

• Such a body is Mr Louis Scharer of Seaford in the county of Sussex airld the Inland Revenue province at Eastbourne. Mr Scharer is sdrty-eight years old, left school at fourteen, has worked in the same garage for more than fifty years, owned it for the last twenty-five years, and become during that time a local character and the object of much affection.

"But then they started to treat me like I was some crook," he says. "And what's more, they started using Gestapo-like tactics."

Now what actually happened was that in February the Eastbourne tax collector 'phoned Mr Scharer's accountants and said he should now pay the first instalment of his 1974/5 Schedule D tax, • a sum they computed as £1,127.67 less £156.05 overpaid the previous year. Mr Scharer promptly did as he had done in previous years and sent off a number of cheques, each to the value of £100 and payable week by week over ten weeks.

Then, breathing the sigh of a man at ease with his own conscience and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, he promptly forgot about it.

But not for long. Two weeks and two duly presented £100 cheques later he received a letter demanding the balance in a lump sum within seven days, and threatening action by the bailiff. On March 12 while he was out hospital visiting, the bailiff and a lady tax collector actually arrived; they were duly 'seen off' the premises by the garage staff. But a few days after that they reappeared when Mr Scharer was in . . .

Now what happened next is anybody's guess but undoubtedly a great many Nixonian expletives went flying around and the bailiff was put in the somewhat embarrassing position (well, there was a lady present) of having to remove himself from the premises in double-quick time. Then Mr Scharer escorted the lady into his private office and, after some extremely impolite exchanges, presented her with a cheque for the outstanding sum, to wit £471.62p. Unfortunately for the lady the cheque was inscribed on a paving stone.

-She stood there in her thighlength bovver boots," says Mr Scharer with all the good humour of a man who's just routed a battalion of the ungodly, "and you should've seen her face. It was sheer delight."

But then came the questions. Could she take this 'cheque' to his bank and get it cashed? No, came the uncompromising answer, it was a 'crossed' cheque.

Would he help her out to the car with it? No. Could the bailiff come in and give her a hand with it? Not expletive deleted likely, she was a tax collector and she'd made him feel like a crook so she could do her own collecting even if it meant doing hard labour at the same time.

The lady did, of course, as ladies do. And as she carried the paving stone across his forecourt, Mr Scharer began to feel less like a crook and more like a local hero, for the press were there and ready to give him a big hand as well as a big spread. Unfortunately, it was only later that he discovered that the Inland Revenue had in the meanwhile continued paying in his normal weekly £100 cheques and that with his paving stone he'd overpaid by £200.

But he's not too worried about that. He's had his fun, the paving stone — duly cancelled by the bank — is on display in his window, the 'crime' he committed is well known locally not to have been a crime at all, and the Eastbourne tax collector is shortly going to have to bear the consequences.

For some of his neighbours are also preparing to pay their taxes by unconventional cheque!

lain Scarlet conducts a weekly programme on crime, delinquency and associated matters on Radio London