Introduction and Facts
It was the perfect crime. Or, at least, it appeared to be – go on holiday and then, when safely home, make a fake claim for ‘illness’ suffered whilst you were away.
It’s been in the news a lot recently, with the insurance companies believing that they are getting diddled by a lot of people who are trying this particular scam.
Many people see it, like a bit of insurance or expenses fraud here and there, as a bit of a harmless way of getting some spare cash, but there are, of course, consequences, as the premiums for all the other honest people go up.
So it was that Paul Roberts, and his partner Deborah Briton, found themselves unwelcomingly thrust into the limelight when they were both sent to prison on 13th October 2017 for just such a scam.
In 2015 and 2016 they both went off on holiday to Mallorca and seemingly had a lovely time. However, they were later to try to sue the travel company on the grounds that they (and their two children) had suffered gastric illness.
Just as the first rule of carrying a baseball bat, if you’re a heavy, is to make sure you always have a baseball and glove, the first rule of carrying out such a fraud is not to post the evidence that brings you down on social media.
On both occasions, there were Facebook postings after the holiday that suggested that the couple had had a great time, with no hint of any illness, gastric or otherwise.
It is not clear exactly how the fraud was detected, but it seems to have been pretty quickly after the pre-action letter was sent to the insurance company. Both pleaded guilty.
The Judge was damning; the claims ““were bogus from start to finish, you were both asserting on your behalfs and on behalf of your two children that on two separate holidays you had suffered illness. They were totally and utterly fake …
Those who may be tempted in the future to make a dishonest claim in relation to fake holiday sickness, if they are investigated and brought to justice, whatever the circumstances of an individual, he or she must expect to receive an immediate custodial sentence.”
Mr Roberts, who seems to have been the prime mover of the fraud (at least in the sense of devising the scheme following a conversation that he had in a pub) got 15 months, whilst Ms Briton received 9 months. In both cases, these were immediate custody – not suspended.
The starting point would have been the Sentencing Guidelines for Fraud – see page 6 for the relevant sections. Here, the claim was said to be worth about £20,000, which would be the value of the gain to the two.
But the Judge seems to have taken in to account the legal costs that Thomas Cook would have incurred in defending the case, which would have added a further *look away now if you’re a criminal lawyer or you may weep* £28,000.
As the guidelines specifically cover the loss to the victim (rather than just the gain to the defendant), the total value for the purpose of sentence would be £48,000. Even though this was not incurred, it was an ‘intended’ part of the loss, at least in the sense of being foreseeably an inevitable consequence.
Either way, it is a Category 3 Harm, but as the range is £20,000-£100,000, this difference is significance.
As to culpability, it is hard to see that it actually has any of the High Culpability features, and so we would suggest that it is a 3B offence.
The starting point is based on a value of £50,000, (so pretty much the figure here) and is 18 months, with a range of 6 months to 3 years.
The actual length of the sentences are pretty much what we expect given the guidelines. It’s not exactly clear when the pleas of guilty were entered, but there is nothing to suggest that the appropriate credit was not given.
In a case like this, you would often expect a suspended sentence. As said, it is a bit of a ‘hot topic’ though, and we can suspect that there is a deterrent element to the sentence imposed, as the Judge set out. The other point, of course, is that we don’t know what, if anything, either of them have by way of previous convictions. But it may be that these two are unfortunate in that they are one of the first to be prosecuted for this offending and so are more newsworthy, with the Judge feeling the need to send a clear message that this behaviour is unacceptable and will attract a heavy sentence.
We will have to see if there is an appeal, it is likely that they will try, but in the current climate we would imagine that the Court of Appeal will uphold the sentence (unless, as an act of mercy in all the circumstances or in light of new evidence) the sentence of Ms Briton is suspended. How likely this is may depend on the age of the children, and what is happening to them whilst their parents are in prison.
Whatever the outcome though, it’s a very expensive lesson for them to learn, and hopefully it will have got through to anyone else tempted by such an offence.