The mastermind behind a £1.3m 'cash for crash' fraud has been jailed for six-and-a-half years for his role in a scam in which 14 co-conspirators have also been convicted.
John Christopher Smith and others conspired to defraud motor insurers by making false claims following seven staged collisions in the Chester area involving buses owned by First Bus.
Smith, sentenced at Manchester Crown Court, organised the fraud, involving a total of more than 200 false whiplash claims, through his Chester-based company Swift Accident Solutions, which specialised in personal injury claims.
He was previously found guilty by jury of one count of fraud and seven counts of conspiracy to commit fraud following a three-month trial.
Smith, 42, of Grasmere Close, Connah’s Quay, blinked as Judge Andrew Blake read out the six-and-a-half year sentence and nodded before being led down to the cells.
Judge Blake said: “In this case the allegation is that in order to get more bang for their buck, the conspirators packed a scheduled bus with all their friends and relations and then a car gently collides with the bus.
“There would be little or no damage to the car but multiple bus passengers would, in the coming days, develop whiplash, would go to see a friendly claims manager (Smith) who would refer them to a solicitor who in turn would send them for a medical examination. The doctor would be told that the crash caused them to jolt their necks resulting in pain.
“There is no objective test which can determine whether the patient is telling the truth and so the doctor cannot be blamed for accepting him at his word.”
The total number of false claims was 215.
The advantage for the claims manager was that for each claim he received a fee of £800-900 from solicitors.
In addition to Smith, a further nine defendants, who played a major role in organising the staged bus collisions, were all found guilty of conspiracy to commit fraud. A further five defendants had already pleaded guilty to the same offence. All were sentenced today (Friday, April 24) except one who will be dealt with next week.
The other defendants
Luke McQuillan, 40, from Dyserth Road, Blacon, received three years for his role as the bus driver in the Cliveden Road crash and an organiser in the Overleigh Road collision. McQuillan was employed by First Bus who were unwittingly involved in every collision. He also passed the names of claimants on to Smith.
Daniel Shaw, 28, from Milton Road, Blacon, Chester, was jailed for two years and six months as a would-be Cliveden Road bus claimant and as a coordinator in the Overleigh Road collision in which he was a passenger in the car driven by his father.
Charlotte Watts, 28, from Fford Almer, Wrexham, the car driver in the Cliveden Road crash, became tearful when she was imprisoned for 18 months.
Andrew Shaw, 58, from Ashton Drive, Frodsham, received an 18 months’ prison sentence as the car driver in the Overleigh Road collision.
Michael Gentile, 46 from Hawthorn Road, was imprisoned for 15 months for his role as a ‘recruiter’ in the Overleigh Road collision.
Barry Cooper, 35, from Hall Lane, Connah’s Quay, ‘joined the scam when Smith ran low on recruits’. He provided passengers for the buses and liaised with Smith. For the Shelley Road and Sealand Road collisions he was jailed for two years and nine months.
Richard Flynn, 48, from Church Street, Connah’s Quay, the car driver in the Sealand Road collision, was sentenced to 18 months’ imprisonment.
Howard Christopher Taylor, 36, of Gladstone Road, Seaforth, acted as a link between Smith and recruiter Jason Power on the Whitchurch Road, A41 Eastham and Liverpool Road crashes. He was given credit for a guilty plea but received a sentence of two years and four months.
Jason Power, 31, of Pulford Road, Chester, had also pleaded guilty before the trial but was jailed for two years and four months.
Dean Brown, 42, from Kings Crescent West, Chester, was the car driver in the Whitchurch Road crash for which he received 17 months in prison.
Christopher John Bethell, 30, of Crosthwaite Avenue, Eastham, was the driver in the Liverpool Road collision. Given credit for his guilty plea and previous good character, Bethell smiled with relief on receiving a 12 months’ suspended sentence, with 250 hours unpaid work.
Sean Kettyle, 43, from Westminster Road, Ellesmere Port, who was a passenger in the car involved in the Liverpool Road crash and linked into bus passengers and other organisers, was given a 15 month jail term.
Mark Taylor, 48, of Vyner Park, Prenton, who pleaded guilty on the day of the trial before the jury had been sworn, was found to have a minor organising role and given a nine months’ suspended sentence with 200 hours unpaid work.
Rachel Cooper, 32, of Oxton Road, Great Sutton, who pleaded guilty before the trial began, will be sentenced next week.
Judge Blake described the fraud as ‘carefully organised and skilfully executed’.
He said: “Inevitably it is the public who suffer by having to pay larger premiums to insure their vehicles and higher prices for goods and services because businesses also have higher insurance premiums to meet.”
He praised Cheshire Police and DC Stephen Owens for their ‘monumental efforts’ in this case.
After the sentencing, Detective Inspector Simon Lonsdale from Chester CID said: “I am extremely pleased with the sentences that have been handed out today, this was an extremely complex investigation, and involving a large number of defendants and spanning a number of years.
“It has been a challenging process for all officers involved and has required considerable professional skills in relation to the investigation and the subsequent prosecution.
“The crime that they committed was not a victimless crime; had all of the false claims created by Smith and his associates been successful we believe that the total cost would have been over £1 million, which would have been paid for by law abiding citizens through their car insurance policies.”
Detective Constable Stephen Owens added: “The police have a duty to protect life, and although these collisions were all minor, they could have been much more serious.
“Yet despite the fact all of the collisions were minor, with minimal damage to both vehicles, they all resulted in multiple personal injury claims, with the vast majority of these claims submitted via Smith’s company.
“Through our investigations and the evidence we have gathered, we have been able to identify a ‘passenger network’ which shows that a large proportion of the claimants can be linked to each other. This network proves that over 90% of the claimants involved in the collisions are linked to each other.
"We encourage anyone who feels that they may have been a victim of fraud to contact Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040. Alternatively information can also be reported anonymously to Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111."