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Home > Collections & Resources > Transcripts > Clippens Oil Co. Ltd. v. Edinburgh & District Water Trust 1899


Important Prosecution at Edinburgh


At Edinburgh Sheriff Summary Court yesterday – before Sheriff Rutherfurd – John Wheelan Patrick Daily, Bernard Flynn, and Philip Boyle were charged with a breach of section 5 of the Conspiracy and Protection of Property Act, 1875, by having, on 3d inst., at the Pentland Oilworks, Loanhead, occupied by the Clippens Oil Company, maliciously broken their contract of service by failing to proceed to their work, knowing that the probable consequence of their doing so would be to expose to destruction or serious injury 500 retorts containing shale in process of distillation, and in full heat.  They pleaded not guilty.  Alexander Bell, manager of the company, who was only witness, said that the retorts required constant attention, and were worked by day and night shifts of men.  They required to be drawn every four hours or so, or great damage might be done.  About a fortnight ago the company asked the men to look after eight additional retorts.  On 2d inst., when the change was to take effect, the men objected, but worked till evening.  The night shift, however, refused to go to work, alleging that they had not been told by the foreman individually.  Witness then told the men to go on in the old way for another week, and those who would not adopt the new system could give their week’s notice of leaving.  There was a regulation requiring a week’s notice.  The men said that was fair, and work went on till Tuesday evening (3d inst.), when the men struck because witness would not agree to continue the old system beyond the week.  He warned them as to the danger of leaving the retorts in the condition in which they were.  He threatened prosecution, but a voice from the crowd of men replied, “What damage could you get off retort men?”  There were 576 retorts full at the time, and it was with great difficulty, and by pressing every available hand into the work, that the shale in the retorts was prevented from “fluxing.”  There was a loss of several hundred pounds to the company through the spoiling of the contents of the retorts.  There was no notice of the change posted up in the works.  Thomas Rider, retort foreman, said that on the Tuesday evening the day-shift men did not leave when their work was done, but hung about and conferred with the night-shift men.  Henry McLaren, under foreman, corroborated the previous witness, and said that Wheelan, Daily, and Flynn were at the works on the Tuesday evening along with a number of day men.  Neither night nor day men had resumed work since.  Cross-examined – He had never seen extra work imposed without notice.  Wm. Young, consulting engineer of the Clippens Oil Company, said he had recommended the proposed change at the works.  He did not think the change was so radical as to require notice.  If the retorts were not looked after properly they would flux, and they would have to be taken down.  The time the men left work was a critical period.  By the Court – The change would involve the employment of eight or ten men fewer, or else mere oil.  As a matter of fact, the company were taking on additional men.  Alex Bell, recalled, said the company had no rule of giving notice except for men leaving.  Thos. Rider, recalled, said all the accused had been in the company’s service for at least a month.  For the defence – Michael Scullion, retortman at the Pentland Works, said that on Monday Rider had told the men that any man who did not take out the extra stuff could “go up the stair.”  That meant to leave.  Witness understood from that he was dismissed.  By the Court – He thought they were entitled to a week’s warning.  He thought it better to work on till the night shift came out and see what they would say.  Cross examined – After conferring with the night men they decided not to work.  It was on the Tuesday night they were told they could work for a week on the old system.  He had heard some men talking about that during Tuesday.  They had worked on Tuesday on the old system.  Michael McCue and Thos.  Mullen, retort men, gave similar evidence.  Other witnesses having been examined for the defence, Mr Urquhart, S.S.C., said, on behalf of the accused, that this had been a case of misunderstanding.  The men thought they had not got sufficient notice, and even the notice afterwards given, which extended to Saturday, was not for a full week.  There was no malicious intent on the part of the men, and the managers should have been more explicit at the first.  Sheriff Rutherfurd said the question was whether the accused broke their contract with reasonable cause to believe that they would in consequence expose valuable property to serious injury, and whether they acted carelessly and recklessly, which would constitute malice in law.  He could not hold that the men did not know the consequences of their failing to do their duty.  He found all of the accused guilty, and fined them £5 each, or one month’s imprisonment.

The Glasgow Herald, 10th November 1885


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