25-strong ‘crash for cash’ gang sentenced at Liverpool Crown CourtTWENTY-FIVE fraudsters were sentenced for their role in one of the biggest ever crash for cash scams.
The group conspired to defraud insurance firm Allianz Cornhill out of thousands of pounds with a string of bogus car smashes.
Liverpool crown court heard the scam was “highly organised, meticulously planned and carefully executed”.
But the gang were snared after a complex three-year investigation codenamed Operation Genarch, which was launched when the insurance firm became suspicious of the rapid rise in accidents.
If the gang had pulled off their plot, they would have walked away with about £170,000, making it the largest ever single crash for cash conspiracy.
Sentencing the group, Judge Graham Morrow QC said: “Insurance fraud is not a victimless crime.
“The defrauding of insurance companies has become increasingly prevalent.
“A message needs to be sent out to those who might be tempted to embark on what they consider to be an easy way to make money.”
Deborah Gould, prosecuting, told the court how the six-month plot was masterminded by butcher and confidence trickster Darren Duvall.
Duvall, who had worked in the claims industry for many years, abused his knowledge of the system to take advantage of its weaknesses to make maximum cash.
The fraudster recruited workers at cable TV firm NTL, now known as Virgin Media, and convinced them to take part in a series of staged crashes.
He persuaded five sales representatives to pretend they had smashed their company Corsa into other vehicles packed with passengers.
While the NTL employees accepted responsibility for the crash and apparently walked away unhurt, the victims from the other car went on to make bogus claims.
Ms Gould told the court how Duvall’s “foot soldiers” went into NHS walk-in centres and hospitals complaining of whiplash to ensure payouts.
She said: “Darren Duvall is a wheeler dealer, who developed a plethora of contacts through his work as a claims handler and through this identified a number of people, who were prepared to make false insurance claims in return for a one-off payment.
“Attracted by the idea of easy money some of Duvall’s recruits in turn encouraged their friends and relatives to join in.”
The plot even involved Duvall visiting “victims” with plans outlining the circumstances of their fake crash and coaching them in what to say to doctors and solicitors.
Duvall then went on to double his profits by taking a cut from compensation firms who he referred the “victims” to.
Ms Gould said: “The beauty of this scheme from the fraudsters’ perspectives was that because the vehicles were owned and insured by a company fleet policy, no individual involved in this fraud was at risk of suffering personal loss, or increase in their insurance premiums.”
She went on to highlight how conspirators even faked damage to cars to make their stories seem believable.
But the group’s plot fell apart when investigators at Allianz noticed the increasing rise of claims from NTL’s Birkenhead office.
Inquiries quickly revealed very similar accidents had all occurred over a short period in 2005 and in a small area.
Further investigations revealed many of the “victims” knew each other or were related, there were never ever any independent witnesses and police or paramedics were never alerted.
Investigators also noticed the NTL drivers never made any medical complaints and left the company soon after, while the apparently injured passengers would all complain of whiplash within a day or two.
Ms Gould detailed how at least five fictitious crashes were submitted by the group and if successful, each one could have netted around £40,000 for those involved.
While most of the gang admitted their roles, four men denied any involvement and ran a trial.
It was only with the conclusion of their trial and following a three-day sentencing hearing that Judge Morrow lifted reporting restrictions.
He quoted another judge saying: “It’s not an easy fix or easy money.
“It’s an easy way for otherwise hard-working, respectable people to go to prison.”
Judge Morrow said he accepted Duvall was the “principal offender”.
Duvall, who has four children and another one on the way, was also sentenced for another scam, during which he had attempted to sell a string of fictitious claims to insurance firms.
Between September 2006 and June 2007, he targeted six law firms and duped them into paying him referral fees.
His second-in-command was Alan Bradley, who even recruited his wife, daughter and nephew.
Judge Morrow said the next tier was the NTL workers who had acted in a “gross breach of trust”.
THE WIRRAL NEWS
MASTERMIND and organiser Darren Duvall, 38, of Celandine Close, Childwall, was jailed for three years while recruiter Alan Bradley, 42, of Marlborough Road, Tuebrook, received 34 weeks.
Former NTL workers Matthew Notton, 31, of Monmonth Crescent, Ashton-in-Makerfield, was sentenced to 26 weeks in prison; Neil Hailoo, 30, of Washington Road, Childwall was jailed for 22 weeks; while Gary Lee, 30, of Ferndale Road, Wavertree and Alexander Pellow, 34, of Morningside, Great Crosby, were both locked up for 14 weeks.
Matthew McElhinney, 26, was jailed for 20 weeks while his brother Gerrard McElhinney, 24, both of Cowper Way, Huyton, got 13 weeks behind bars. Their other brother Brian McElhinney, 29, of Byron Close, Huyton, was spared prison. He received a 12-week jail sentence suspended for 12 months with 300 hours unpaid work in the community. He was also placed on a six-week curfew from 8pm to 7am which will be electronically tagged and ordered to pay £1,250 in costs.
Mother and daughter Mary Bradley, 46, and Kelly Navis, 29, both of Marlborough Road, Tuebrook, were sentenced to 12-month community orders with 200 hours unpaid work in the community, an electronically-tagged six-week curfew from 8pm to 7am and were both ordered to pay £1,000.
University human resources co-ordinator Paula Dowding, 39, of Victoria Road, Tuebrook, was given a 17-week prison sentence suspended for 12 months. She was ordered to do 250 hours unpaid work, subjected to a six-week curfew from 8pm to 7am with an electronic tag and ordered to hand over £7,500 in the next three months.
Her husband Paul Dowding, also 39; Paula Dowding’s brother Richard Kenwright, 37, both of Victoria Road, and Laura Kenwright, 26, of Beames Close, Wavertree, were sentenced to 12-month community orders.
They were ordered to complete 250 hours unpaid work in the community, subjected to a four-week curfew between 8pm and 7am with electronic tags and all ordered to pay £7,500 in costs.
Kim Mills, 40, of Parliament Close, Toxteth, was sentenced to nine weeks in prison suspended for 12 months with 250 hours unpaid work, a six-week curfew between 8pm and 7am with electronic tag and ordered to pay £1,000; Nina Larke, 38, of Canning Street, Toxteth, was sentenced to eight weeks suspended for 12 months, with 200 hours unpaid work and a four-week curfew with tag. She was ordered to pay £250 in costs.
They final eight members of the gang were all sentenced to 12-month community orders.
Leslie, 54, and Anne Unsworth, 57, of Warnerville Road, Broadgreen, were also sentenced to a eight-week curfew between 8pm and 7am with electronic tag and ordered to pay £250 in costs each.
Brenda Whittaker, 57, of Lauriston Road, Walton, was ordered to do 200 hours unpaid work, subjected to a four-week electronically-tagged curfew and ordered to hand over £250. While her son Richard Whittaker, 29, of St Domingo Grove, Everton, was ordered to 200 hours unpaid work and pay back £1,000.
Angela Thompson, 34, of Lauriston Road, Walton, was also sentenced to 200 hours unpaid work with £250 to pay in costs, while Emma Grimes, 24, of Gray Street, Bootle, received a sentence of 175 hours unpaid work and £250 in costs.
Gerard Jones, 40, and Kelly Roberts, 26, of Bark Road, Litherland, were sentenced to 150 hours unpaid work and to pay £500 costs
Anthony Neville, 31, of Ashdale Road, Waterloo, will be sentenced on Tuesday.