Tackling fraud: more must be done
On 3 April 2019 Bradford Crown Court has given a 21 months suspended jail sentence and six-months curfew order to Farida Ashraf, who pleaded guilty to fraud in a slip and trip case.
The suspended sentence is a far cry from what Mrs Ashraf bargained for when she sent a letter to a Bradford supermarket, seeking £3,000 compensation for injuries after slipping and tripping on a crate of orange juice cartons on the shop’s floor back in 2013. She waited for nearly a year from the staged accident before sending her letter, hoping that the CCTV evidence will be erased by then. The claim was thrown out of civil court in 2016, after Mrs Ashraf was found fundamentally dishonest. The CCTV recording, which a cautious shop employee did keep, revealed that two female accomplices placed a pallet of orange juice cartons on the floor of a supermarket so that Mrs Ashraf could pretend to stumble over it.
The fall in the supermarket was the beginning of a very slippery slope for Mrs Ashraf as the case was taken over by Aviva the shop’s insurer, in what is thought to be a first private prosecution of a slip and trip case in the UK. Aviva secured a conviction on the basis of fraud by misrepresentation, sending a clear message to potential fraudsters that fictitious claims, no matter how small will not only not be entertained, but will also be pursued.
The latest figures from the Association of British Insurers (ABI) show that in 2016 insurers detected fraudulent insurance claims worth £1.3 billion. In 2015, insurers reported a 36% rise in fraudulent slip-and-trip claims when completed to the previous year, worth £351 million.
Insurance fraud remains a problem that is difficult to address, especially when government law enforcement agencies have suffered cutbacks in funding and resources. When faced with having to balance the public interest against the resource pressures, they are rarely able to pursue individuals like Mrs Ashraf. The private prosecution route fills that gap – under Section 6(1) of the Prosecution of Offences Act 1985, any individual or organisation has the right to commence the criminal proceedings. The judge sitting at Bradford Crown Court praised Aviva for doing exactly that:
This is a case properly and responsibly brought by the insurance company and one that should have been brought by CPS but that is water under bridge.”
Public prosecution, while still seen as an exception to the state’s right to prosecute has been on the rise in the UK. In our experience, had Aviva referred this case to the public enforcement agencies it is unlikely this type of offending would have featured as an enforcement priority, and as such this crime would have been “screened out”.
Private prosecutions offer victims of crime a useful alternative route to criminal justice. It has been successfully used by travel operators, insurers, and companies and individuals defrauded by scam artists, as we considered in our blog 'Private Prosecution of Summer Holiday Fraudsters', it can also serve as a useful tool for employers seeking redress from their dishonest employees, as we discussed in our blog 'Using private prosecutions against dishonest employees'
If you are an organisation, an insurer or an employer who has been a victim of crime then the effect of that crime on you and your business can be devastating. In such circumstances you should be entitled to hold the offender to account. In circumstances when the offending is serious enough to warrant action being taken and the public enforcement agencies are unwilling or unable to act then private prosecutions offer a viable alternative for victims of crime.
Skip to content Home About Us Insights Services Contact Accessibility