A semi-professional footballer who brought a fake whiplash claim has suffered twice over after a four-month suspended sentence for contempt was heaped on an £11,000 costs order for bringing a fundamentally dishonest claim.
The case of Gary Burnett was the first ever prosecution by the Attorney General in a case involving insurance fraud.
Mr Burnett, aged 25, made the dishonest claim in 2013 following a minor bump at a drive-through restaurant in Merseyside. No injuries were reported at the scene and damage to both vehicles was minor. However, a few days later he submitted a personal injury claim for £2,000 to Aviva that stated he was unable to play for Cheshire-based Northwich Victoria for a month.
Horwich Farrelly, the Manchester-based defendant firm that represented Aviva, said its investigations revealed that Mr Burnett had in fact played a football match the day after the incident – and had tweeted about the match. Online match reports and other social media posts revealed he had continued to play throughout the prognosis period.
After Horwich Farrelly submitted the evidence to his solicitors, Mr Burnett discontinued the claim, but Aviva pursued the case and in July 2015, Wigan County Court ruled the claim to be fundamentally dishonest, ordering him to pay Aviva’s costs of more than £11,000.
In addition, the judge referred the matter to the Attorney General to consider whether the Crown should prosecute Mr Burnett for contempt of court.
The firm said that whilst contempt findings have previously been secured against dishonest claimants – with Horwich Farrelly securing 10 to date – the defendant ordinarily has to make the application and bear the legal costs.
In sentencing Mr Burnett to four months in prison, suspended for a year, Mr Justice Jay said that “a deterrent sentence is called for even if low value. There is no alternative but for a custodial term”.
Solicitor General Robert Buckland QC MP said: “This is a serious case, highlighted by blatant dishonesty and a clear contempt by the offender. Burnett knowingly lied in order to benefit himself and the public interest demanded that proceedings be taken forward.
“Burnett is now deservedly paying the penalty for his actions and I hope this sends a message to anyone tempted to try and do the same thing.”
Jared Mallinson, partner at Horwich Farrelly, added: “For the government’s chief legal adviser to deem it to be in the public interest to prosecute Burnett for contempt highlights the claimant’s blatant demonstration of fraud and his disregard for the courts.
“He saw an opportunity for a quick-win, despite the claim being without merit, and was prepared to take money that he simply did not deserve, at the expense of honest policy-holders and the insurer.”