PROVING THINGS 107: PROVING A “STAGED CRASH” TO THE CRIMINAL STANDARD: CCTV EVIDENCE PROVIDES CONVINCING EVIDENCE

In Aviva Insurance Ltd v Nazir & Anor [2018] EWHC 1296 (QB) His Honour Judge Gosnell (sitting as a Deputy High Court Judge) found the two defendants in contempt of court when they had taken part in a staged crash and attempted to claim damages. What is interesting is the fact that (by coincidence) there was CCTV evidence available which, the judge found, strongly supported the view that this was a staged crash.

 

The key to the case is the CCTV evidence which I have described above. On my assessment it is convincing evidence of a staged accident.”

THE CASE

The first defendant was the driver, and second defendant, a passenger in a car involved in an accident on the 19th July 2012. The claimant in this case was the insurer they sought damages from. Proceedings had been issued and both defendants had signed the statement of truth.   The claimant in this case (the insurer) brought an action for contempt of court.

CCTV EVIDENCE

By chance there was CCTV evidence available of the incident.

It helps, when reading this to know that:

  • The defendants were travelling in the Seat Alhambra.
  • The car that struck the defendants’ car was the Ford Cougar.
“It transpired that West Yorkshire Police were conducting some unrelated surveillance in the area and were able to release their footage to the Claimant. The camera is situated in Stamford Street pointing down the street to where Stamford Street meets Bowling Back Lane which crosses at right angles to it. Directly across the road is Hammerton Street which has two exits, one at a slight angle directly across from Stamford Street. The collision occurred when a Ford Cougar emerged from Hammerton Street and struck the First Defendant’s Seat Alhambra on the front nearside wing as it passed the Ford Cougar on Bowling Back Lane.
  1. The footage starts at 6.07.35 pm when the Seat Alhambra is seen driving along Bowling Back Lane crossing past Stamford Street travelling from right to left on camera. During the course of the recording until the collision at 6.29.39 pm the Seat crosses in front of Stamford Street no less than eleven times going one way and then the other. The Ford Cougar is first seen at 6.12.06 driving along Bowling Back Lane. Over the next 18 minutes it is seen several times either on Hammerton Street emerging into Bowling Back Lane, or on Stamford Street. A man is seen standing on the corner of Stamford Street, looking right and left as if seeking out a particular vehicle, often on the phone and gesticulating with his hands. A silver Peugeot car arrives and appears on a number of occasions and at some point, the man standing on the corner is seen to get into the Silver Peugeot. Meanwhile the Ford Cougar keeps returning to Hammerton Street and pulling out of the junction into Bowling Back Lane.
  2. The Peugeot is stationery at the entrance of Stamford Street for some time (around a minute) when suddenly the same man who has been standing on the corner using his phone gets out from the passenger side, walks round the back of the Peugeot and the Seat Alhambra then appears and stops in the mouth of the junction for the driver to talk to the man for 26 seconds. The Alhambra then leaves going right to left but returns travelling left to right at 6.21.31. By this point the Ford Cougar is stationery in the junction of Hammerton Street. As the Seat Alhambra is passing the Ford Cougar lurches forward over the white line and a collision looks inevitable until it brakes suddenly and the Seat passes without incident. The same man is seen walking towards the corner of Stamford Street again and after a while gets into to another car which is parked on the corner. He drives over to Hammerton Street where the Ford Cougar is again in the junction. He stops right next to the Ford Cougar and the drivers appear to have a conversation which causes the Ford Cougar to do a U turn and return back down Hammerton Street.
  3. By 6.28.48pm the Ford Cougar is back at the exit from Hammerton Street and the man is back on the corner again looking, gesticulating and on the phone. The Ford Cougar is then stationery for some time and there are at least two occasions when no traffic is seen coming from either direction for several seconds when there would have been ample time for the Ford Cougar to emerge safely. At 6.29.39 the Seat Alhambra is seen driving along Back Bowling Lane from left to right for the eleventh time and the Ford Cougar drives straight out hitting the front nearside of the vehicle when clearly the Seat was right in front of him and impossible to miss seeing. The Claimant alleges that the man on the telephone was the link between the various parties and orchestrated the contrived accident.”

THE DEFENDANTS’ EVIDENCE

The judge considered the evidence of the defendants compared to the CCTV evidence.

“I accept the burden of proof is on the Claimant and the standard of proof is the criminal standard, beyond reasonable doubt. The key to the case is the CCTV evidence which I have described above. On my assessment it is convincing evidence of a staged accident. The behaviour of the man on the corner, the driver of the Ford Cougar and the Peugeot are highly suspicious and it is significant that the Ford Cougar returns to Hammerton Street several times to perform the same manoeuvre. Counsel for both Defendants rely on the fact that the Claimant has called no evidence connecting these Defendants with either the driver of the Ford Cougar or the man appearing to orchestrate this crash. I have to accept that is correct but if I accept that this was a staged accident, why would the driver of the Ford Cougar choose to run into the Seat Alhambra unless that was part of the conspiracy? On any subsequent claim the driver of the Ford Cougar could not make a claim and he could only be staging the accident for the benefit of the innocent party who could then claim from his insurers, in this case the Claimant.
    1. The First Defendant said he did not know why he had been chosen as the target for this accident and the suggestion was made that it may have been a case of mistaken identity from the point of view of the Ford Cougar driver. I find that is most unlikely for two reasons: firstly, the orchestrator appears to have had conversations with the Ford Cougar driver probably by telephone and at least once in person and it would be vital to choose the correct target car; secondly, there was a “near miss” incident shortly before the real accident which again involved the Seat Alhambra. This suggests that the near miss was a first attempt which was abandoned at the last minute for some reason. It does however suggest premeditation with the Seat as the target vehicle.
    2. The CCTV footage does not support the First Defendant’s version of events in relation to the conversation with the organiser. When he is shown talking to the First Defendant through the car window this was the second conversation according to the First Defendant and arose after he had been flagged down by the man. There is no sign of him waving or making any arm movements on the CCTV. He is shown briskly getting out of the passenger side of the Peugeot car and walking round the back of it with the First Defendant then appearing and slowing down for a conversation. It was as if he had seen the First Defendant approaching and knew he was going to stop.
    3. Both Defendants pray in aid that the First Defendant would not expose his 15-year-old brother-in-law to danger by allowing him to be involved in a road traffic accident. This may have been unwise but this was never an accident which was intended to cause any genuine injury and was in many ways a “controlled collision” with the Ford Cougar moving a short distance from stationery to collide with the Seat. What did the First Defendant have to gain? He was paid the pre-accident value of his seven-year-old car and had the opportunity to be paid compensation for personal injury for both him and the Second Defendant. It is possible that he thought the limited risks were worth the potential rewards.
    4. In my Judgment the evidence from the CCTV is overwhelming that this was a staged accident. I have discounted the possibility that the conspirators somehow mistakenly hit the wrong car. Logic suggests that they chose the right car for the reasons I have outlined. This suggestion could however have been displaced and a reasonable doubt created if the Defendants had been convincing witnesses. Sadly, they were not. Counsel for the First Defendant said his client was a nervous witness who was desperately trying to prove his innocence. I have to agree with his assessment but I would add that in my judgment both Defendants were desperately trying to prove their innocence by lying on oath.
    5. Counsel for the Second Defendant raised the possibility that if I found the First Defendant had staged this accident he may not have revealed that to the Second Defendant. I think that is inherently unlikely and that the Second Defendant would perhaps have been a more convincing witness if he was genuinely innocent.
    6. I find as a fact to the criminal standard that:

(i) the defendants deliberately set out to deceive the Claimant by falsely claiming that they were injured in a genuine accident when they had conspired with others to create it;

(ii) the defendants must have intended thereby to interfere with the administration of justice;

(iii) the conduct complained of must have had a tendency to interfere with the administration of justice.

    1. In relation to the statements made in the claim form and Particular of claim that they were victims of a genuine accident I find as fact to the criminal standard:

(i) the statements in question were false;

(ii) the statement has, or if persisted in would be likely to have, interfered with the course of justice in some material respect;

(iii) at the time it was made the maker of the statement

(a) had no honest belief in the truth of the statement; and

(b) knew of its likelihood to interfere with the course of justice.

  1. I reach these findings because I am satisfied so that I am sure that the Defendants both knew they were involving themselves in a staged accident and must have known that following that they would make a claim which was dishonest. I also find that they must have known that by issuing and pursuing proceedings based upon a staged accident they were interfering with the course of justice by using the courts as an unwitting vehicle to pursue a dishonest claim.
  2. It follows from these findings that both these Defendants are found to be in contempt of court and that each of the grounds are found proved.”