A total of 60 people have been convicted or pleaded guilty to being involved in one of the country’s largest “crash for cash” scams.
Reporting restrictions have been finally lifted on a case that began last year and has seen 70 defendants brought before Newcastle Crown Court. At its heart is the Wright family, of Burnhope, which is widely suspected of involvement in organised crime and came to national prominence three years ago when two streets it had named after its members without permission had to be renamed by police.
The fraud was so bad that people living in Derwentside, County Durham, where the main players behind the scam were based, had to pay up to £100 extra for their car insurance.
Police uncovered the scale of the fraud while investigating the activities of members of the Wright family. Concerns over local organised crime led to a major investigation, named Operation Nacho, assisted by the Insurance Fraud Bureau and other agencies. Police looked at 1,800 accidents handled by two particular firms and swiftly identified 261 that looked suspicious.
Investigators suspected some were entirely fictitious, some staged and some vastly exaggerated. They identified 25 accidents that were considered to have the highest impact on the public, financially and in terms of suspected organised crime involvement, and these were selected for detailed investigation.
Those 25 crashes resulted in more than £514,000 being obtained for the claimants. The real figure was estimated to be more than £3m. Seven of the 60 convicted were members of the Wright family.
Judge Roger Thorn lifted the order that prevented the media from reporting any of the proceedings. Key players included Paul Jonathon Wright, 40, who is known as Jonty and ran PJ Autos, a recovery, storage and vehicle-hire business. He is yet to be sentenced for his part in the scam, which involved making false claims for storing damaged cars and hiring replacement vehicles at up to £200 a day.
Also involved was his older brother Alan, 49, who was jailed for four years after a trial last year. A police source described Alan as the head of the family and he was found to have had four fake crashes within just 10 months.
Another family member bought an Audi with 112,000 miles on it, staged an accident in it near his home in Burnhope, and when he made a claim after apparently writing it off, its mileage had dropped to 37,000, making it much more valuable. The claimant also falsely claimed to have suffered whiplash, the source said.
The Transport Select Committee is investigating the extent to which bogus and exaggerated whiplash claims push up the cost of car insurance. Insurers have urged tougher action to curb the number of whiplash claims, which add an estimated £90 to every car-insurance premium.