Yesterday’s Guardian reported that Cwmbran magistrates’ court was closed for all normal business due to the court having to deal with 86 people, mainly from just two valleys in south Wales, being accused of taking part in one of the UKs largest “cash for crash” frauds. The charges ranged from single counts of conspiracy to defraud insurance companies to conspiracy to steal, receiving stolen goods and money laundering. The defendants were bailed to appear at Newport Crown Court next month, although in more manageable batches. Should any of the defendants be found guilty it seems unlikely that they will be able to expect much judicial sympathy if the views expressed by the Court of Appeal in R v Nikki McKenzie  EWCA Crim 1544 are anything to go by. Mr McKenzie was convicted of fraud following his part in a wide reaching “cash for crash” scam. McKenzie played a relatively minor part, claiming to have been a passenger in a vehicle that collided with another car and that he had (inevitably) suffered whiplash as a result of the accident. It was found that the collision never happened and consequently Mr McKenzie was sentenced to 15 months’ imprisonment. Rather shocked at the length of the sentence Mr McKenzie appealed pointing out that he was “relatively lightly convicted” and had never before been to prison. Moreover, he had been employed by the same electronics firm for 12 years and was regarded as an exemplary, hardworking and honest employee. He was described by one of the directors of his employer as “very much a family man, devoted to his wife and three sons”; his wife had been diagnosed as bipolar and the trial judge acknowledged the devastating impact that a prison term would have on her. Despite all the mitigating factors the Court of Appeal did not consider the sentence too long noting the trial judge’s view that “deterrent sentences were called for in view of the prevalence of this type of offending and the need to show that it will not be tolerated”. So, the unfortunate Mr McKenzie had his sentence confirmed. In addition the Court of Appeal also confirmed that the costs order of £3,242 towards the cost of the prosecution was appropriate. The sentence may well be cause for some sleepless nights in the valleys among those who may have played relatively minor parts in such scams. Whether such sentences will have a deterrent effect remains to be seen; criminals tend not to think that they will be caught, and as Keith J pointed out in McKenzie such fraudulent claims are “easy to assert and difficult to disprove”. What is clear though is when a case of fraud is made out the courts are increasingly keen to hand out significant sentences, which should be welcomed.
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