A woman who duped her lawyers as she wildly exaggerated a clinical negligence claim, seeking damages of £5.7m instead of the £350,000 her case was worth, has been jailed for contempt of court.
Sentencing her to six months, Mr Justice Griffiths dismissed as irrelevant Linda Metcalf’s claim that she sought the money for her future care needs.
“What she would spend it on is no excuse,” he said. “She was, by her contempt of court, effectively stealing money from the NHS. There is no Robin Hood defence here: that it was all in a good cause.”
He said Ms Metcalf had a genuine claim valued at £350,000 because of Calderdale & Huddersfield NHS Foundation Trust’s failure to diagnose cauda equina syndrome more quickly. This is a severe type of spinal stenosis where all of the nerves in the lower back suddenly become severely compressed and requires prompt treatment in order to get the best outcome.
The trust admitted liability at the pre-action stage, based on a failure of care which caused one day of delay in treatment.
It was alleged that serious consequences flowed from this. There was a formal apology and an early interim payment of £75,000.
The case proceeded on the issue of quantum but Ms Metcalf then lied repeatedly for more than three years about the extent of her suffering.
“The lies all had a common theme: exaggeration of her physical disabilities and infirmities, amounting at times to outright invention,” the judge recounted.
“She dishonestly and falsely claimed that she could not walk unaided and was dependent upon aids such as a wheelchair, a walking frame or sticks.
“She also claimed that she was only able to go out socially to places with which she was comfortable and familiar, and took relatively few holidays, and restricted herself to travel which was appropriate to her allegedly reduced mobility.
“She hid or lied about the fact that she was regularly taking holidays to a variety of places in this country and abroad, in none of which she appeared to have any difficulties with her mobility or to be failing to enjoy herself to the full.”
Ms Metcalf lied to a total of 13 different experts on 19 different occasions and signed various statements of truth to matters which were not true.
She also accepted that both solicitors and counsel had lost “a lot of money” by working on her case under a conditional fee agreement.
Three months before trial in September 2019, Ms Metcalf agreed that her claim should be dismissed because of fundamental dishonesty and to repay the interim payment.
Deciding on sentencing, Griffiths J adopted a starting point of 18 months – the maximum sentence was two years – but then reduced it to reflect a number of mitigating features, including the fact that she had a genuine claim and was in poor health.
“I do not regard her levels of remorse as out of the ordinary, but I do accept that the discovery of her dishonesty has brought shame and humiliation on her, including with those close to her, and that she feels that deeply and it forms part of her punishment.
“That is not quite the same thing as remorse, and the special pleading in her affidavits leads me to believe that her remorse is mostly due to realising the consequences of her actions, particularly to herself.
“For example, to say ‘What I did was stupid rather than planned’ falls well short of recognising the enormity of the admitted dishonesty.”
The judge added too that the impact of the pandemic on prisons “makes a prison sentence more onerous than it would usually be”.
He also gave her credit for making full admissions as soon as the contempt proceedings were issued.
“Ultimately, however, I cannot achieve the punishment appropriate to the facts of this case if I suspend the sentence and do not require any part of it to be served in prison.
“Appropriate punishment for faking evidence in support a claim inflated by some £5m can only be achieved by immediate custody.
“I will therefore order the committal for six months to take effect immediately. However, Ms Metcalf will be entitled to automatic release, without conditions, after serving half the term of the committal.”