Whitehall secret murder revealed

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A SHOCKING document has surfaced at the Public Record Office, latest fruit of the clear- out of secret historical papers ordained by William Waldegrave, the Minister for Open Government.

The death warrant of the Cabinet cat (below), dated 24 August 1953, is the final item in a file of papers that tell of 17 years of unsung public service. Through war, austerity, devaluation, nationalisation, Cold War, the New Look and much else, official cats patrolled the corridors of the Cabinet Office in a tireless hunt for mice.

The end came, not for financial reasons nor lack of prey, but through the demands of hygiene. The cat lived in the canteen, and in 1953 this was deemed unhealthy. The method of execution is not recorded.

The file begins in 1936, when Lt-Col W H M Ives, of the Cabinet Office, sent an appeal to the Treasury: 'You will recollect that many months ago I discussed with you the question of an allowance for an office cat . . . The moment has arrived when something must be done as, owing to the fact that the office is over-run with mice, I have been forced to get a cat.' The animal was provisionally being maintained 'by private subscription among our staff', but Ives wondered if the Treasury could see its way . . .

The reply was prompt: 'Authority has been given for an allowance of 5/- (25p) a month to support a cat on the strength of the Cabinet offices.' This was to be paid on the 20th of each month to a Mrs Robbins, who would issue a petty cash voucher in exchange ('Treasury authority should be quoted on each voucher').

Thus began the career of Jumbo, who prowled the Cabinet offices under Baldwin, Chamberlain and Churchill until, in 1942, he fell ill. A vet was summoned and a sick note issued, but five days later Jumbo was dead.

The vacancy, still at 5/- a month, was filled by a female, name unknown. Working out of the canteen for the next 11 years, she saw Attlee come and go and Churchill return. Then she had the bad luck to catch the eye of A Dilley.

On 24 August, Dilley wrote to a superior, M F Pinnock, to ask 'that the Cabinet Office cat be removed from the canteen and from their responsibility for reasons of hygiene. Do you think you could arrange for the cat to be kept in another section of the Cabinet Office, or authorise its destruction?'

The reply came the very same day. The cat was too old for relocation: Dilley was cleared to give her the chop.