Prison sentence for contempt: A strong message to the would-be fraudster
A claimant who brought a fake personal injury claim against Milton Keynes Council has been sentenced to 8 months in prison for contempt of court. The claimant suggested that he had tripped over a defective drain cover when in fact he had slipped on ice. The fraud came to light after the claimant’s medical records were reviewed. His daughter, who supported her father in his claim, was sentenced to prison for 6 months, suspended for 1 year for her part in the fraud. John Palmer, who acted for Milton Keynes Council, reviews the evidence in this case, a strong deterrent to the would-be fraudster.
The claimant, Mr Sturges, pursued a personal injury claim against Milton Keynes Council (the Council) as a result of an alleged tripping accident on 4 February 2012. Unfortunately, he lied about the circumstances of the accident, pretending that he had tripped on a defective drain cover, when he had in fact slipped on ice.
In support of his claim, Mr Sturges signed Particulars of Claim and a witness statement (both of which contained Statements of Truth) which he knew was not true and lied to the medical expert preparing a report in support of his case, about how the accident had happened.
Mr Sturges was supported by and colluded with his daughter, Danielle Sturges, to recover damages from the Council in the region of £8,000 plus legal costs which potentially could have lead to an award of in the region of £30,000.
Careful analysis and investigation of the circumstances and medical records surrounding the alleged accident revealed that Mr Sturges’ claim was fraudulent. Nonetheless he pursued his claim suggesting that he had indeed tripped and injured himself as he had said but that he had later, when attending hospital, slipped on ice. He had forgotten that when his daughter had telephoned the Urgent Care Unit earlier in the evening after the alleged incident (and prior to attending hospital) she had already reported that he had slipped on ice. Ms Sturges also signed a false witness statement which she knew was not true.
Prior to trial, Mr Sturges discontinued his claim against the Council and was ordered to pay the Council's costs of the action which was met by his insurers.
The contempt proceedings
The Council commenced contempt of court proceedings against both Mr Sturges and his daughter which were heard by the High Court on 17 October 2016.
Throughout the proceedings, neither defendant took any active steps to address the allegations made. No defences were served and the court’s directions were not complied with.
Shortly before trial both Mr and Ms Sturges pleaded guilty to contempt.
The matter was heard before HHJ Coe QC who sentenced Mr Sturges to 8 months imprisonment and Ms Sturges to 6 months imprisonment, suspended for 1 year.
In giving judgment, HHJ Coe held that Mr Sturges’ actions had been dishonest and calculating for financial gain throughout. She found that there was a high public interest in preventing fraud, it was not a victimless crime, a strong deterrent was needed and the sentence should be significant.
The Judge found that Ms Sturges had also acted dishonestly in lying to the court, to solicitors and in documents. The threshold test for a custodial sentence for her was also satisfied. However, given her different personal circumstances (she was a single parent with a young child) her sentence would be suspended.
The defendants were also ordered to pay the Council’s costs of the contempt action.
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