Claimant’s damned lies in respect of vehicle repair and credit hire claim result in prison sentence

It is said that sequels are rarely better than the originals on which they are based, and it is true that the county court decision in John Vernon v…

Tuffnells Parcels Express Limited v John Vernon

High Court of Justice
5 February 2018

Background

It is said that sequels are rarely better than the originals on which they are based, and it is true that the county court decision in John Vernon v Tuffnells Parcel Express takes some beating.

In that case, Mr Vernon contended that his Audi Q7 had been damaged in a road traffic incident involving a Tuffnells’ vehicle. That gave rise to a claim for the pre-accident value of the Q7 and significant credit hire charges, incurred with Direct Accident Management (“DAM”).

At trial in November 2016, Recorder Poole QC made six findings of dishonesty and dismissed the claim. Read more about that case.

However, the story does not end there. In view of the depth of Mr Vernon’s lies, Tuffnells was keen to pursue committal proceedings against him and so the sequel was born.

The issues

In the case, filed in the High Court, Tuffnells made various allegations of contempt against Mr Vernon which included:-

  • By knowingly concealing the existence of documents relating to the repairs and disposal of the Q7 and documents relating to the insurance and apparent ownership by him of other vehicles during the credit hire period, he had committed the contempt of making a false disclosure statement
  • By dishonestly contending, in a formal reply to the allegation of fraud and replies to written questions, that he had disposed of the Q7 in its damaged state and that he was not insured to drive, and did not have access to, any vehicle during the hire period, he had committed the contempt of making false statements of truth

Mr Vernon denied the allegations. He sought, principally, to blame his son for the false evidence which had been provided. He attempted to dissociate himself from what had happened to the Q7 after the alleged accident and he maintained that he did not have access to any vehicles during the hire period.

He also made the observation that his solicitors, Armstrongs, had signed the statement of truth that accompanied his reply to the allegations of fraud and replies to written questions.

The trial

By the time of the High Court trial on 5 February 2018, Mr Vernon had new legal representation and he had taken time to reflect on the allegations which had been made against him.

He accepted that he had signed a disclosure statement which he knew to be false. He knowingly made no mention of documents pertaining to the Q7 repairs or its disposal. He also accepted that he had concealed ownership and insurance documents relating to a Ford bearing his private plate, which was owned by him during the hire period.

He further accepted, in respect of the reply and replies to questions, that he signed statements of truth or caused to them to be signed when he knew that what he was signing contained falsities. In particular, he had denied the Q7 had been repaired and maintained it had been written off, which he knew was untrue. He had also denied having access to any vehicles, when he knew that he had access to the Ford, which was insured in his name.

After hearing Mr Vernon’s plea in mitigation, during which it was contended that any sentence should be suspended, His Honour Judge Bird (sitting as a High Court judge), gave his judgment.

He reminded himself, as per the comments of Moses LJ in South Wales Fire and Rescue Service v Smith [2011] EWHC 1749 (Admin), that those making false claims should expect to go to prison. He remarked that this was a serious case of contempt and exaggerated claims need to be discouraged.

In respect of Mr Vernon’s contentions that he was not entirely responsible for the false evidence or statements of truth, the judge remarked that those who sign statements of truth (or cause them to be signed) must take responsibility for them and this was something which Mr. Vernon was seemingly still not prepared fully to accept.

Having regard to the circumstances, Mr Vernon was sentenced to 8 months in prison, with immediate effect.

Comment

This an important case as it sends out the clear message that insurers are taking increasingly tough approaches to those who pursue fraudulent claims against them.

The sentence also encourages anybody who is offered a credit hire vehicle after a road traffic accident to really think about what they are signing up for. The vehicles are not courtesy vehicles and it is vital that a claimant is sure they actually need that vehicle before entering a credit hire agreement.

It is equally important that the evidence a claimant gives in support of a compensation claim is totally honest and frank as, once lies are discovered, there may be consequences to that claimant which are far graver than the dismissal of their claim.

For more information please contact Jeff Turton Associate and Credit hire fraud specialist or Chris Ball, Partner.

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