Police stumbled across the fraud while investigating concerns over local organised crime in and around the district of Derwentside, County Durham. It prompted a major investigation, named Operation Nacho, assisted by the Insurance Fraud Bureau and other agencies.
Investigators scrutinised 1,800 accidents handled by two particular firms and swiftly identified 261 which looked suspicious. It quickly emerged that as suspected, some were entirely fictitious, some staged and some vastly exaggerated. They identified 25 accidents which were considered to have the highest impact on the public – both financially and in terms of suspected organised crime involvement – and they were selected for detailed investigation. Those 25 accidents alone resulted in more than £514,000 being obtained for the claimants – although the true figure was estimated to be more than £3 million. As a result, a series of trials involving 70 defendants got underway last year at Newcastle Crown Court, with 60 people either convicted or admitting direct involvement in the large-scale scam.
The key players included the owner of a recovery, storage and vehicle hire business, which took a first-hand role in making false claims, storing damaged cars and hiring out costly replacement vehicles at up to £200 a day. Among the vehicles involved was an Audi with 112,000 miles on the clock. It was staged in an accident and was apparently written off. But investigators subsequently found its mileage had dropped to 37,000, making it far more valuable. The driver also falsely claimed to have suffered whiplash injuries. Investigators drafted in a forensic engineer to prove another crash between a truck and a car could not physically have happened as was fraudulently claimed.
Interesting times ahead for SatSafeDRIVE!