A crash-for-cash gang conned more than £145,000 out of insurance companies in a series of shocking scams.
A 29-strong gang staged or completely faked accidents on the roads in Sunderland, Durham and South Tyneside between 2008 and 2012.
Newcastle Crown Court heard the drivers and passengers who had been in the “crashed” vehicles then applied for huge payouts for injuries, damages and costs.
A judge said such scams cause public outrage as they bump up the cost of insurance for legitimate customers.
All involved in the large scale fraud were connected to each other in some way - and five were from the same Sunderland family.
Insurance companies were duped into paying out a total of £145,238 relating to eight separate scam smashes.
The final payout figure would have been much higher, but for the firms becoming suspicious and investigations into the claims being launched.
Prosecutor Matthew Bean told the court: “Each was fraudulent in nature, it being staged or entirely fabricated.
“A number of the defendants are related or can be linked through Facebook and other social networks.
“Five of the defendants are members of the same family.
“Each of the eight incidents follow a certain pattern, a number of incidents took place in approximately the same place, they each involve only two motor vehicles, and in each case one driver accepted responsibility.
“In each case there is a close relationship between a number of the people involved in the incident.
“The nature of the legal claims were similar, with multiple claims for whiplash-type injuries.”
The court heard the fake crash sites were at Claypit Close in South Shields, Moor Lane in Cleadon, Beaumont Street in Sunderland, Rutland Street in Sunderland, the A183 in Sunderland, and Salters Lane in Durham.
Judge Deborah Sherwin said a jail term was inevitable for some of those involved.
The judge said: “The accidents were staged or no accident took place at all.
“Offences of this kind cause considerable public anger.
“As a result of this kind of offending, the insurance premiums of legitimate drivers are increased.
“A further consequence is when drivers are involved in traffic accidents they find themselves under great scrutiny. These kind of offences make insurance companies look hard into everyone.”
The judge accepted the scam was not on an “industrial scale”, but said an amount of planning must have been involved.
Those dealt with by the court were:
Darren Straughan, of Birchwood, South Hylton Green, Sunderland, admitted involvement in four fraud charges relating to involvement in four of the scam crashes.
The 28-year-old, who prosecutors claim received a total of more than £23,000 in payouts, was jailed for two years.
Paul McCully, 28, of Carlisle Terrace, Sunderland, admitted two fraud charges relating to his involvement in two crashes. He was jailed for 12 months.
Craig Isherwood, of Whitchurch Road, Witherwack, Sunderland, received total payouts of £4,277 for his involvement in three crashes. The 30-year-old admitted three fraud charges and was jailed for 15 months.
Christopher Charlton, 28, of Chilton Street, Sunderland, made £2,633 out of the two crash scams he was involved with. He admitted two fraud charges and was sentenced to 12 months’ imprisonment, suspended for two years.
Louisa Whitfield, 27, of Helvellyn Road, Sunderland, admitted making £3,150 out of two scams. She pleaded guilty to two fraud charges and was sentenced to a 12-month community order, with a two-month curfew.
Dale Sheriff, 26, of Churchill Avenue, Southwick, Sunderland, admitted involvement in three crashes, from which he made £4,575. He pleaded guilty to three offences of fraud and was jailed for 15 months.
The rest of the gang who were sentenced this week, all from Sunderland, were involved in one bogus smash each.
Natalie Ross, 27, of James Armitage Street, partner of Darren Straughan, who made no money from her involvement, was sentenced to four months’ imprisonment, suspended for two years, with 80 hours’ unpaid work.
Darren Straughan’s father Michael Straughan, 61, of Birchwood, who made over £10,000, was given 12 months behind bars, suspended for two years, with supervision and a four-month curfew from 9pm to 7am.
Gary Gill, 27, Healey Drive, Tunstall, who made £2,750 from his involvement and has since been sued for more than £7,000 in the civil courts by an insurance company, was given 12 months behind bars, suspended for two years, with 150 hours’ unpaid work.
Carol Slack, 51, of Whitchurch Road, Witherwack, who made no money from her involvement, was sentenced to three months behind bars, suspended for two years, with supervision.
Stacey Isherwood, 24, of Whitchurch Road, Witherwack, who made nothing from the scam, was sentenced to three months behind bars, suspended for two years.
David Dixon, 30, of Shakespeare Street, who made £470, was given five months’ imprisonment, suspended for two years, with 150 hours unpaid work.
Julie Ross, 57, of James Armitage Street, who made £1,450 in the compensation con, was given six months behind bars, suspended for two years, with 150 hours unpaid work.
Vicki Walton, 29, of Westerham Court, Witherwack, who walked away with £3,300, was given six months behind bars, suspended for two years, with a 9pm to 6am curfew for six months and 80 hours’ unpaid work.
Kirsty Straughan, 24, of Birchwood, who made £3,799, was given five months behind bars, suspended for two years, with 150 hours’ unpaid work.
Ian Lawton, 34, of Dean Terrace, who made £4, 626, was given six months behind bars, suspended for two years, with supervision.
David Straughan, 27, of Beechwood Crescent, who made no money in the scam, was given 15 months behind bars, suspended for two years, with 200 hours’ unpaid work.
Shaun Hewitt, 24, of Eversley Crescent, who made no money, was given 24 weeks behind bars, suspended for two years, with supervision and a four month curfew from 9pm to 6am.
Darren Madge, 45 of Roker Avenue, who also made nothing, was sentenced to five months’ imprisonment, suspended for two years, with a four-month curfew from 8pm to 6am.
They all admitted fraud.
Darren Manson, 34, of Park Terrace, Sunderland, who was paid out £2,750, was sentenced to six months behind bars, suspended for two years, with 200 hours’ unpaid work.
Mark Straughan, 33, of Cromwell Street, Sunderland, who made £2,200, was also given six months behind bars, suspended for two years, with 200 hours’ unpaid work.
Both were convicted after a trial.
Judge Sherwin told them: “All of you can consider yourselves very lucky.”
The judge said she accepted some of the defendants were more naïve than others and some were involved through loyalty.
Defence teams said the defendants have mostly stayed out of trouble since their involvement and now lead completely different lives.
None of those involved were heavily convicted.
Seven further defendants, from Sunderland and South Tyneside, were dealt with by magistrates.
One of them was given a four-month prison term.
A further defendant is yet to find out his fate. He will be sentenced at a later date.
Despite some of the huge payouts involved in the scam, some who walked away with thousands of pounds now have no money to pay back.
Craig Isherwood, Christopher Charlton, Ian Lawton, Julie Ross, Kirsty Straughan, Vicki Walton, Michael Straughan, Gary Gill and Dale Sheriff were all ordered to pay back just £1 under the Proceeds of Crime Act due their lack of assets.
Louisa Whitfield must pay back £100, Mark Straughan £2,200, Darren Manson £2,500 and David Dixon £150.
Others face further investigation into their finances or the judge ruled they made no money at all due to the scam being discovered by the insurance companies.
After the case, Chief Inspector Dave Willett, who led the police investigation, said: “This has been a good result for the team and I am proud of the work they have done to bring this investigation to the courts.
“These people have been putting lives at risk to make money for their own gain.
“It is not right, and we want others to know we will take action on anyone who thinks they won’t get caught out.”