23 NOVEMBER 1991, Page 32


Sir: Might I take this opportunity to warn your readers of a variation on the confi- dence trick which P.D. James (Diary, 9 November) experienced?

Last Saturday morning I answered the door to a young man who asked me, urgently, if I had seen an ambulance in the street ten minutes ago. I replied that I hadn't. He explained that he lived 'just up the road', had just returned from work to find a note from his wife saying that she had gone into labour and was being taken to hospital by the ambulance. He explained that he wanted to follow her to the hospital but had no money for petrol, and could I lend him £3. He would leave his mobile telephone as security for this loan.

I gave him a fiver, told him I did not want his telephone and wished him the best of luck. He said that he would return later and that he was sorry for knocking on my door, but 'I'm a bit nervous like 'cos it's me first'.

My wife howled with derisive laughter when I told her what I had done, but my rationale went as follows: 1. I would rather believe than disbelieve someone, even a stranger; 2. The story was plausible and convinc- ingly told (the ambulance was a particularly good touch); and 3. The sum involved was negligible. (This, in retrospect, is rather worrying; what was it about my appearance or that of the hallway of my house that caused the father-to-be to moderate his request from P.D. James's more realistic £30 to my £3?) Incidentally, I did not actually see the mobile telephone — did P.D. James see the family's passports?

Johnny Gorman

12 Atherton Street, London SW11