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Published 21 December 2020
Two insurance fraudsters who allegedly injured themselves after falling down an 18-inch, two-foot deep, open manhole in Bodmin, Cornwall, in June 2013, have been found guilty of contempt of court and, on 14 December 2020, will receive a prison sentence.
DAC Beachcroft’s national counter fraud team acted for Zurich Insurance to handle the contempt of court proceedings.
Claimant Philip Craze alleged he had slipped into the open manhole, located on a footpath on land managed by the local authority, and had dragged down fellow claimant, Shaun Barnicoat, with him as he fell. They both sued the local authority for compensation, arguing that the manhole cover had been missing at the time and that the local authority was to blame.
The local authority and its insurer, Zurich Insurance, became suspicious that this was a fraudulent claim, that the falls were not accidental and that neither claimants had suffered the injuries they said that they had sustained, following a tip off. Emergency services and the Police who attended the scene had also raised questions as to whether Mr Barnicoat and Mr Craze were being truthful in their account of the events.
At a trial in May 2017, the court found both claimants had been fundamentally dishonest and rejected their personal injury claims.
Following this decision and in view of the claimants’ blatant lies, Zurich appointed the counter fraud team at DAC Beachcroft to seek further sanctions against the fraudsters and to commence proceedings for contempt of court. Neither Mr Barnicoat or Mr Craze took part in the contempt of court proceedings.
In a judgment handed down last month (Tuesday, 17 November 2020), His Honour Judge David Lock QC found both Mr Barnicoat and Mr Craze guilty of contempt of court in their absence. He stated: “Mr Barnicoat and Mr Craze made false statements about the injuries that they claimed to have sustained; that they made those false statements for the purpose of improperly seeking financial compensation as damages for injuries that they never sustained; and that when they signed the Particulars of Claim and made witness statements, both Mr Barnicoat and Mr Craze knew that they were telling lies about the alleged injuries, and that they did so in order to seek to persuade the local authority to pay them damages for injuries that they never sustained.” He accepted that, while this was only a relatively modest damages claim, it nonetheless involved a serious and extended level of deception.
At the sentencing hearing on 18 December 2020DDJ David Lock QC said to Barnicoat “It is a very serious matter to make a false claim knowing it to be false. You persisted with the lies. You lied in front of the judge in attempt to deceive an insurer. That is a public wrong. It is a public wrong which the higher courts say must be marked by prison. There is no reason for me not to impose a prison sentence. I sentence you both to 6 months. In your case, Mr Barnicoat, I note the medical position and in particular that at 11th hour you have recognised those lies, and that you apologise. I am prepared to suspend for 2 years”
"In the case of Mr Craze I do not suspend sentence. He has had repeated opportunities to come before court. They have not been taken. He is not prepared to accept that he lied. In accordance with the authorities in my judgment I have no choice but to send him to prison immediately. The features Mr McCann points out are aggravating in this reasonably modest claim. I will not suspend his sentence. He is required to serve time in prison"
Claire Laver, Head of Casualty Fraud at DAC Beachcroft, commented, “This is a brilliant and long-awaited outcome and is testament to the hard work and dedication of all who have worked on this case. I am delighted for those at Zurich Insurance who had the foresight and commitment to see it through. Prison sentences like these serve as another very strong reminder that insurance fraudsters can end up in prison even where the value of the claim is relatively modest.”
Scott Clayton, Head of Claims Fraud for Zurich Insurance Group Ltd, added, “These failed fraudsters layered improbable untruth on top of ill-judged lies – which is why they can expect to spend this Christmas in jail.
“Their commitment to fabrication was seconded only by the inconsistency and implausibility of their tall tales. Such fundamental dishonesty led to ambulances needlessly being called to the pantomime of their ‘accident’ - ambulances that could have better served vulnerable people who were genuinely in need – all at the expense of the public purse.”
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