Social housing, local government, occupiers’ liability, fraud, contempt proceedings

Clarion Housing established 21 counts of contempt of court in committal proceedings against a claimant found to have invented a loss of earnings…

Circle Anglia Ltd (Now known as Clarion Housing Group) v James Lee Mitchell – Royal Courts of Justice, HHJ Cheema-Grubb

06 June 2018

Summary

Clarion Housing Group established 21 counts of contempt of court in committal proceedings against a claimant who was found to have entirely invented a loss of earnings claim and then lied further in an attempt to maintain the deception with the intention of securing a higher award of compensation than he was genuinely entitled to. The claimant was sentenced to a four month custodial sentence starting immediately.

Facts

Mr Mitchell alleged to have sustained a fracture to the fifth metatarsal in his right foot when he tripped and fell on 21 May 2013 as a result of uneven paving outside his home address. Causation was left in dispute. When proceedings were issued, Mr Mitchell served a schedule of loss including a loss of earnings claim in the sum of £15,985.83. He alleged that three days prior to the index accident, he had attended a job interview at a diner and had been offered a role as a prep-room manager which was due to begin on 25 May 2013. However, as a result of the accident, he claimed to be unable to commence the role offered due to his accident related injuries. Upon further investigation, including Part 18 questions, it was established that Mr Mitchell had not worked for at least eight years prior to the index accident due to a number of unconnected medical issues which were ongoing at the time of his accident. Furthermore, it was established that the individual who allegedly offered Mr Mitchell the job was his brother’s partner although no such connection had been declared by him.

Upon disclosing details of the investigations made into Mr Mitchell’s purported job offer, he discontinued his claim prior to an application for strike out for abuse of process being heard. We then, on behalf of Clarion Housing, successfully secured a finding of fundamental dishonesty in the civil case and a consequential order for costs. An application was then made to the High Court for permission to bring proceedings for contempt against the claimant on the basis that he had verified a statement of truth on a number of court documents containing facts that were untrue (CPR 81.17). Mr Mitchell failed to engage at all in the entire committal process and the matter was ultimately heard in his absence, the Judge having satisfied herself that Mr Mitchell was aware of the ongoing proceedings and had chosen not to participate.

Judgment

In passing sentence, Mrs Justice Cheema-Grubb observed that the making of false statements signed with a statement of truth was an extremely serious matter which caused great difficulty and threatened the course of justice; going on to say that such behaviour must be identified and punished.

Comment

This was a matter that Clarion Housing and their insurers (Zurich) pursued because of the wider public interest in deterring fraudulent claims and the desire to deal with fraudulent claims in a robust manner in order to send out a message to those considering making similar claims in the future. This approach has been reinforced in several recent reported court decisions and a number of similar cases have resulted in custodial sentences, including a claimant who was sentenced to three months in jail earlier this year in the first contempt of court case brought by an NHS foundation trust and the recent Zurich/Weightmans’ matter of Grix v Doncaster MBC.

This result should re-emphasise the commitment of Clarion Housing, Zurich and Weightmans LLP in considering all available options when dealing with suspected fraudulent claims and also confirms the willingness of the Courts to impose custodial sentences when these claims are exposed.

Martin Brown, Solicitor in the Manchester Casualty Team at Weightmans LLP acted for Clarion Housing Group in this case in conjunction with their insurers, Zurich.

For further information about Weightmans LLP or to discuss any of the issues in this update, please contact Martin Brown on 0121 200 7571 or by email at martin.brown@weightmans.com, or contact Suzanne Milne, Partner on 0161 233 7348 or email suzanne.milne@weightmans.com.

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