Fake That! A Retrospective
Fraud Aware 5
In the largest case of its type, Keoghs’ unique private prosecution of 21 fraudsters led to an unprecedented judgment in August, as Her Honour Judge Belcher handed down sentences of over 29 years and savings of over £140,000 in potential liability. The result garnered interest from the national press and even as far as Bavaria, not just for its importance, but also due to the outrageous circumstances surrounding the attempted fraud. With the case having just been shortlisted for this year’s Personal Injury Awards, we take a look back at events which led to the prosecutions...
The initial incident involved 19 defendants who were passengers on a bus and two others; the driver and passenger of a Nissan Micra which proceeded to collide with the back of the bus. It was alleged at trial that all of the defendants had pre-planned the incident with the aim of making fraudulent insurance claims.
In an unprecedented judgment at Leeds Crown Court, Her Honour Judge Belcher sentenced 19 of the defendants to a total of 29 years and four months with sentences ranging from 12 months through to 21 months. 16 of the defendants were given immediate custodial sentences with the other three receiving suspended sentences in this ground-breaking case.
Unusually, Keoghs also sought and secured a conviction for dangerous driving, and the driver of the Micra received a three year ban with three months added to his prison sentence; underlining the potential loss of both liberty and licence for fraudsters who stage accidents involving innocent members of the public. The driver was also ordered to take an extended driving test. Two of the defendants have yet to be sentenced.
Importantly, given this was a civil defence, the judge also granted an order that the prosecuting insurer’s costs should be paid from central funds.
Prior to the private prosecution being commenced the police were invited to arrest the defendants and the CPS were invited to take over the prosecution. No response was received to either invitation though West Yorkshire Police have supported the prosecution and made arrests of defendants for non-appearances at court. As a result, Keoghs pushed on with the investigation.
Damning evidence was secured from security camera footage which captured the bizarre moment when 19 performers began a pre-rehearsed routine which would put any Take That tribute act to shame. In the footage, the elaborate performance included the claimants signalling to each other and jumping up holding their necks, implying they had been involved in a serious collision. One man flung himself down the aisle of the bus while others began to act out serious injuries and demand ambulances from the bus driver who later stated he had felt nothing more than a slight tremor through the steering wheel.
All this while an incredulous and innocent passenger looked on in amusement, having been completely unaffected by the incident. Indeed the routine was so over the top, one defendant couldn’t stop himself from laughing!
A camera stationed on the rear of the bus also revealed the moments leading up to the group’s sub-par performance, as the Nissan Micra struggled to keep pace with the bus in scenes more akin to a situation comedy than footage of a genuine accident. Then, as the bus slows down to approach a junction, the driver accelerates in order to hit the rear of the bus, triggering the extraordinary reaction which would be funny if it weren’t fraudulent.
Prior to these events, the 19 bus-bound defendants had already drawn attention to themselves by all boarding the bus from the same stop. Whilst this was suspect in itself, the fact that the stop rarely held a ‘queue’ of more than one or two people made it doubly so. Investigations from Keoghs Intelligence also revealed via Facebook that a number of the defendants knew each other, making their behaviour prior to the incident even stranger as they positioned themselves around the bus, not talking to each other.
Barrister David Dixon, who conducted the case with Keoghs, raised further examples of odd behaviour at trial. Video footage immediately following the incident showed that the allegedly injured passengers completely ignored the driver of the car (despite some of them knowing him), instead choosing to harangue the bus driver who obviously hadn’t been at fault having slowed normally at a junction.
Several of the defendants were also caught on camera watching from the back of the bus, waiting for the bump to occur, then signalling the other defendants to begin the charade.
Such damning evidence left judge HHJ Belcher in no doubt of the defendants’ guilt, stating:
“The insurer is to be commended. I have no hesitation whatsoever in awarding the insurer the costs of bringing the prosecution.”