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Highways, fraud, contempt proceedings

Halton BC v Daniel Condron – High Court (Liverpool) – 28 April 2015

Halton BC v Daniel Condron – High Court (Liverpool) – 28 April 2015

Summary

Halton Borough Council established contempt of court in committal proceedings against a claimant who lied about the location of his accident on the highway. The claimant was sentenced to six months in prison.

Facts

Mr Condron alleged he had fallen off his moped in September 2010 as a result of a pothole in the highway. He brought a personal injury claim seeking damages of up to £50,000. There was no dispute that he had fallen off his moped; however, the police records suggested that the accident had taken place some distance away from the alleged pothole and that the claimant had simply lost control of the vehicle and hit the kerb. A witness statement from the police officer was obtained and following exchange of statements in January 2014 the claim was discontinued. The council successfully obtained permission to bring proceedings for contempt against the claimant on the basis that he had verified a statement of truth on court documents that contained facts that were untrue (CPR 81.17).

Judgment

Despite the claimant’s denial of contempt, the judge held that the contents of the claimant’s Particulars of Claim and witness statement were false. He stated that the claimant thought “he could make a bit of money by asserting that the cause of the accident was a pothole” and it was “plain as a pikestaff” that his false account was intended to (and did) interfere with the course of justice. In sentencing the claimant to six months in prison, the judge reiterated the compelling comments of Moses LJ in South Wales Fire & Rescue Service v. Smith [2011]that fraudulent claims undermine the justice system, impose a burden on honest claimants and that those making false claims should expect to go to prison. He added that dishonest claims have “a pernicious effect on the insurance industry, local authorities and society as a whole”.

Comment

The circumstances of this highways claim will likely strike a chord with local authorities and their insurers. In this case however, the discontinuance of the civil claim was not the end of the matter. Halton BC (in conjunction with insurers Zurich Municipal) took the view that it was in the public interest to pursue the contempt application. The findings of the court justified this decision and the custodial sentence imposed should serve as a stark warning to dishonest claimants about the consequences of their actions.      

Peter Wake and Denise Rooney of Weightmans LLP’s Local Government Team acted for Halton BC in this case.