THIRTEEN members of a ‘cash-for-crash’ gang who staged an accident during a spoof stag do have walked free from court.
The scam involved intentionally damaging their minibus before taking it to the scene of the ‘crash’, then claiming for whiplash injuries.
A second Peugeot vehicle was also purposely damaged and the defendants had claimed it was involved in the ‘smash’ – but the court heard it had never been anywhere near the mini-bus.
If the gang had pulled off the scheme, they would have pocketed a total of £134,000 between them from insurance company Aviva.
A fleet of six ambulances raced to the scene of the ‘accident’ on the north bend slip road off the A193 near the Tyne Tunnel, North Tyneside, after one of the men dialled 999 at 7.45pm on August 19 2009.
The men were rushed to North Tyneside Hospital, some in neck braces, where members of the group were given “unnecessary” neck and spine x-rays.
When ambulance staff approached the minibus, Robert Paul, 45, the driver, Stephen Paul, 28, the “groom” and twelve other “stag do revellers” in the vehicle seemed to be “quite well”.
James Adkin, prosecuting, said: “The defendants were laughing, smoking and chatting on mobile phones.
“What followed was a domino effect as they began to hold their necks and say they had suffered injury.”
However a few hours later they seemed to have made a “dramatic recovery” and were “walking around” at the hospital, continued Mr Adkin.
When police arrived at the scene, Robert Paul claimed that he hadn’t seen the other vehicle, however an investigation by Northumbria Police discovered that the passengers of the mini-bus were in cahoots with the owner of the Peugeot, Ben Le Blond, and his “ghost passenger” Marnie Simpson, 21.
Officers were immediately suspicious, as the men were two and a half hours away from Edinburgh, the supposed stag-weekend destination.
The group then lied to paramedics, doctors and insurers to “line their own pockets”.
Mr Adkin continued: “Robert Paul immediately started telling lies to the police.
“They were two and a half hours away from Edinburgh when it crashed so it would have been a limited affair.
“Steven Paul immediately complained to the police he had neck pains.
“He said he was the groom.”
Officers also found no overnight bags or clothes for the “weekend away”.
Aviva launched an investigation into the ‘accident’ and discovered through Facebook that many of the mini-bus passengers were friends with LeBlond.
Police then seized mobile phones and found a photograph of LeBlond with his arm around Stephen Paul.
Mr Adkin told the court that a forensic vehicle examiner and collision investigator, Terence Metcalf, had concluded that the two vehicles hadn’t had any contact and that damage had been inflicted away from the accident scene.
Mr Adkin said: “There were red scratches to the vehicle (Peugeot).
“The minibus was white not red.”
He went on to say that some of the damage to the minibus was “consistent with being driven into a post.
“He thought damage had been inflicted away from the scene on both vehicles,” he continued.
“Debris could have been deliberately spread at the scene.”
Newcastle Crown Court heard that the group “bitterly regretted” the scam, and had turned their lives around since the incident four years ago.
Peter Routledge, defending Robert Paul, said: “He’s put his life completely to rights.
“He’s gotten employment and he has a sheath of qualifications.
“He is now a delivery driver delivering parts to Nissan.”
The 16 people were arrested in December 2011, and initially made no reply or stuck to their original story.
But today Robert Paul, 45, of Frederick Street, South Shields, Stephen Paul, 28, of Wheatley Gardens, Boldon, both South Tyneside, were given 12 month jail sentences suspended for 12 months.
Both men were also ordered to do 150 hours unpaid work and fined £360 .
John Seymour, 23, of Lavender Grove, Boldon, South Tyneside, was given a six month sentence suspended for 12 months and was ordered to complete 150 hours of community service.
Anthony Clark, 24, of Inverness Road, Jarrow, South Tyneside, was given a six month sentence suspended for 12 months. He was also given 150 hours of unpaid work.
Jonathan Aurey, 24, of Hindmarsh Drive, South Shields, South Tyneside, was given a six month sentence suspended for 12 months, a three month electronic curfew and 150 hours of unpaid work.
Daniel Daymond, 23, of Beamish Street, Jarrow, South Tyneside, was given a six month sentence suspended for 12 months, a three month electronic curfew and fined £360.
Richard Oliver, 25, of Calf Close Walk, Jarrow, South Tyneside, was given a six-month sentence suspended for 12 months, 150 hours of unpaid work and a £360 fine.
Anthony Ward, 23, of Copley Avenue, South Shields, South Tyneside, was sentenced to 6 months uspended for 12 months, 150 hours of unpaid work and a £360 fine.
Daniel Ward, 28, of Oak Avenue, South Shields, South Tyneside, was given a six month sentence suspended for 12 months and a fined £360.
Christopher Martin, 33, of Cheviot Road, South Shields, South Tyneside, was given a six month sentence suspended for 12 months, a 12-month supervision order and a three month electronically monitored curfew.
Daniel Laidler, 26, of Chesterton Road, South Shields, South Tyneside, was given a six month sentence suspended for 12 months, 150 hours of unpaid work and a fine of £360.
Karl Comarford, 25, of Hazlitt Avenue, South Shields, South Tyneside, received a six month sentence suspended for 12 months and a £360 fine.
Marnie Simpson, of Eaglesheld Road, South Shields, South Tyneside, was given a
12 month community order, and 12 month supervision order and 150 hours unpaid work.
The court heard the then 17-year-old had been under the pressure of her older boyfriend, LeBlond, to take part in the scheme by pretending to be a passenger in the car and submitting a whiplash claim.
All 13 pleaded guilty to fraud.
LeBlond and two other men, who also pleaded guilty to fraud, are still awaiting sentencing.
Judge David Wood said: “You 13 were part of a group of 16 people who were all known to each other and all planned to take part in a serious fraud.
“Some of you agreed to damage the vehicle to be written off.
“In total, Aviva set aside £134,000 to deal with the claims.
“If there had been a serious accident in this area on that night in which people were genuinely hurt or dying, the emergency services would have been unable to help them because they would be dealing with you.
“Some 75 defendants have been through this Crown Court for cash for crash and a large amount of money has been spent on claims.
“Insurance is said to have went up for everybody because of these cases.”