A typist’s slip and a spy school

February 7, 1914.

February 7, 1914.

A typist’s mistake which might have cost the Commissioners of Works over £110,000 was mentioned in the Chancery Division.

The Commissioners had arranged for the building of a post office in Wimpole Street, London, at a cost of £20,000, but a typist in the office in typing the form of contract with schedules for the contractor, Mr William Frederick King, who trades as King and Son, accidentally substituted the words “cubic feet” for “cubic yards”. This multiplied the agreed cost by 27, and the Commissioners now applied to the court asking that the contract should be rectified.

If the error was taken for calculation, the solicitor general explained, the £20,000 contract would work out at £133,400.

In the course of his evidence, Mr King explained that in discussing his account with a Mr Baylis at the Office of Works he drew Mr Baylis’s attention to the mistake in typing, and said that upon it he could claim. He said at the same time that if the Commissioners of Works treated him reasonably he had no wish to take undue advantage.

Mr Justice Sargant said the court had ample jurisdiction to rectify. Mr King, he was sorry to say, was opposing the rectification in order that he might enforce this “absurd and preposterous claim” against the Commissioners of Works and use it as a lever by which to extract from them something more than his legal rights. He was seeking to take advantage of the slip of a typist.

Judgement was entered against the defendant, the ratification asked for being granted.

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In St Petersburg there exists a kind of real University of the Science and Art of Espionage. It consists of some six independent but harmonised faculties, training the immense army of spies and agents-provocateurs all over the world.

The art of opening letters, deciphering codes, and forging handwriting, the histrionic art of disguises, and the science of manufacturing explosives, are the main subjects taught at this university.