Fraudulent claimant found guilty of contempt of court and sentenced to 12 months imprisonment
Royal & Sun Alliance Insurance plc v Maharouf Fahad (2015)
QBD (Judge Collender QC)
An individual who had made false statements in a fraudulent damages claim against Royal & Sun Alliance Insurance plc (RSA), in relation to a staged road traffic accident was committed for contempt of court. The application to commit was successful as the evidence adduced satisfied the court, to the criminal standard, that the individual concerned had knowingly and deliberately set out to defraud the insurance company in a false claim for damages.
Following a finding of fraud at a trial at Bromley County Court in 2012 in which the respondent's evidence was found by the trial judge to be "wholly unattractive”, “inconsistent” and at times “untruthful", DWF were instructed to apply on behalf of RSA under CPR r.32.14 and CPR Pt 81 for an order committing the respondent to prison for contempt of court for making false statements of truth.
The respondent brought a claim in damages against the applicant arising out of an alleged road traffic accident in 2009. At trial Deputy District Judge Hay found that the accident was entirely contrived and that the respondent had known, and was in a relationship with, the other driver, despite his assertions to the contrary. RSA were the other driver's insurer. The trial judge found the respondent's evidence inconsistent and untruthful and the applicant was granted permission in October to bring committal proceedings on the basis that the respondent had made false statements.
The false statements in question were:
the allegation in the respondent's particulars of claim that the accident had been caused by the driver's negligence;
his response to the applicant's Part 18 request (in which he stated that he did not know the driver prior to the accident); and
his assertion in his witness statement that he did not know the driver at the time of the accident and only became Facebook friends with her some months after the alleged accident (the driver's former flatmate had been interviewed by the applicant’s representative and had given evidence during the trial that the respondent and the driver had been in a long-term romantic relationship and that he was a frequent visitor to the flat that they shared).
The applicant submitted that the respondent had:
Made the false statements and verified (or caused them to be verified) with a statement of truth;
Knew at the time that he made the statements that they were false;
Acted with the intention of interfering with the due administration of justice; and
If the false statements had been persisted in, it was likely that it would have interfered with the course of justice.
The applicant further submitted that, in relation to point 3, if the court found that the respondent knowingly made false and dishonest statements of the kind alleged, there was an irresistible inference that he acted with the intention of interfering with the due administration of justice in line with the reasoning in Airbus Operations Ltd v Roberts  EWHC 3631 (Admin),  A.C.D. 25.
The respondent submitted that he had communication difficulties due to English not being his first language and that he had got confused with his tenses when he said in his Part 18 replies that he had not known the driver at the time of the accident and that he did not know her as at the time he signed the replies. The respondent’s evidence in respect of his relationship with the driver had clearly altered as additional evidence was served by the applicant and it was submitted that the respondent was tailoring his evidence in order to provide an explanation for his previous false statements.
The committal hearing
The presiding judge was of the view that the issues to be determined before the instant court were essentially the same as those before the trial judge. The central issue was the existence or absence of a relationship between the respondent and the driver at or around the time of the alleged accident. It was for the applicant to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the respondent had made the false statements knowing that they were false, AXA Insurance UK Plc v Rossiter  EWHC 3805 (QB) applied.
The court was impressed by the flatmate's evidence and there was no good reason to disbelieve it. The court accepted her evidence in full. The court could only deduce the respondent's account of events from the papers before it, as he had not given evidence at the committal hearing and neither had any of the passengers involved in the alleged accident. His right to silence was not absolute and it was submitted by the applicant that this could and should be taken into account. The judge accepted the applicant’s submissions on this point.
Overall, the court approached the respondent’s evidence with a great deal of caution. He had initially stated that he did not know the driver at the time of the accident. After the applicant served a statement from its solicitors showing that the respondent and the driver were friends on Facebook, he had made a statement claiming that they had only become friends on Facebook after the accident. The respondent had been resident in the UK since 2001 and had attended an intensive English language course. His difficulties with the English language had been overstated and his argument that he had muddled his tenses in his statement was not accepted.
The court was satisfied that the respondent was well acquainted with the driver at the time of the alleged accident and accepted the flatmate's evidence that they had been in a long-term and serious romantic relationship for some time. The court also accepted the flatmate's evidence that the driver had told her that she and the respondent had nearly been caught out by an insurance company because they were friends on Facebook.
The Court was also satisfied that there was a good deal of evidence to show that the respondent had been dishonest. The only credible explanation for the changes in his evidence was that he had been untruthful. The court accepted that the motivation for the respondent to conceal his relationship with the driver was to deceive the applicant into believing that an accident had occurred which had not. The accident was not real and had been staged. It could not reasonably be argued that the respondent had an honest belief in his statements. He had knowingly and deliberately set out to defraud the applicant in a false claim for damages. In doing that he had sought to interfere with the administration of justice and was in contempt of court, Airbus considered. The respondent was sentenced to 12 months' imprisonment, South Wales Fire and Rescue Service v Smith  EWHC 1749 (Admin) and Aziz v Ali  EWHC 4003 (QB) considered.
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