Dudley man returns book to library 58 years late but avoids £42k late fees

Staff at Dudley Library were gobsmacked when a customer returned an overdue book 58 years after it should have been back on the shelves.

Sharon Whitehouse, library manager at Dudley Library, with the late return
Sharon Whitehouse, library manager at Dudley Library, with the late return

David Hickman, who was born and raised in Dudley, was just 17 when he borrowed ‘The Law for Motorists’ from the library in 1964.

He was looking to swot up on motoring regulations following a minor traffic accident.

David Hickman returning the book to Dudley Library

That summer, he had been driving past the library and waving to pupils leaving the nearby Dudley High School for Girls when he crashed into another car – which turned out to belong to the then Mayor of Dudley.

The book proved to be of little use and that September, Mr Hickman admitted ‘driving without due care and attention’ at Dudley Magistrates' Court.

He was fined £7 – which equals around £175 today - and ordered to pay a £3 advocate’s fee.

In a strange twist of fate, the mayor himself – Councillor W G K Griffiths – was due to appear on the bench on the day of the hearing but was hurriedly removed in case he was called as a witness.

Hickman, who had lived on The Broadway, Dudley, now lives in Battersea, south London, after moving to the capital city in 1970.

“My car was a 1947 Ford Popular and, in those days, if you had ‘wheels’, you were top of the food-chain when it came to getting the attention of girls,” said the 76-year-old father-of-one, who has retired from working in hotel management.

"I'd been waving to the girls coming from the school and my car drifted into the middle of the road. I was shocked to see the mayor.

"I borrowed the book to look to see if I had any defence.

“My mother was furious when I went to court. People were more concerned with complying with authority back then.

"I even tried to buy the newspaper hoarding that listed the day’s headlines so that she wouldn’t see it.

“It said, ‘Crash With a Civic Touch’. Later, she came to see the funny side.”

The book, meanwhile, has lain mostly forgotten at the back of a drawer.

“I used to come across it now and then and think ‘I must pop that back next time I’m in Dudley,’ Mr Hickman said.

“I even considered posting it anonymously but then I decided I would face the music and take it back in person.

"Fortunately, they saw the funny side."

Sharon Whitehouse, library manager at Dudley Library, with the late return

Mr Hickman was relieved to be told that the fine of 20p per day – which would amount to approximately £42,340 – would be waived.

Dudley librarian Sharon Whitehouse said she was thrilled to have the book returned, complete with its pre-computerisation cardboard tickets, and to hear the story behind it.

She now hopes to donate it to The Black Country Museum.

"I think that's a great idea," said Mr Hickman.

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