OAP jailed for faking own death

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The Independent Online

A pensioner was jailed for six years today after he admitted faking his own death in Central America to try to pocket a £520,000 life insurance payout.

A judge said Anthony McErlean, 66, committed "deliberate and calculated fraud" after he impersonated his wife to claim he had died after being struck by a produce truck in Honduras on December 6, 2009.

Fake official documents, including a death certificate, were produced in a bid to back up his bogus tale, claiming the crash happened as McErlean was changing a tyre.

A made-up witness said he was travelling with McErlean to take wildlife pictures, and that following the crash farm workers took his body away to a small village called Santa Rosa de Aguan.

Police were alerted by the Insurance Fraud Bureau, which had been contacted by suspicious officials at Ace European insurance company, which did not pay out a penny to McErlean.

The case bears similarities to that of back-from-the-dead John Darwin who faked his own death in a canoe accident off Teesside in 2002 to help him and his wife Anne claim insurance and pension cash before fleeing to Panama.

Detectives from Kent Police arrested McErlean and found him with a debit card in the name of Green.

It emerged that not only had he faked his own death but he had been claiming pensions relating to his late father-in-law from a previous marriage who died in March 2007.

At Canterbury Crown Court on June 13, McErlean, of Swarling Hill Road, Petham, Kent, pleaded guilty to a series of charges.

They included fraudulently making a claim to the Ace European insurance firm, fraudulently obtaining a passport and two counts of theft from a pension fund from the Port of London Authority totalling some £27,000 and £40,658 from the Department of Work and Pensions.

Dressed smartly, bearded McErlean showed no emotion as he returned to the same court today to be sentenced by judge Adele Williams.

She told him: "This is deliberate and calculated fraud, not only from corporate bodies but also from the public.

"In my judgment, you were driven by a desire to gratify your own overweening greed.

"You sought to benefit at the expense of others."

Prosecutor Donna East said: "The defendant took out an accidental death policy with Ace European insurance and the policy was for £520,000.

"In January 2010 the company received documents reputing to come from his wife stating that her husband had been killed in a car crash in Honduras on December 6, 2009 and had been cremated.

"The paperwork had been forwarded to Ace by a friend of the wife who was acting as her agent in the UK while the wife stayed in Honduras."

The documents submitted to the insurance firm included McErlean's death certificate, a police report of the crash, a witness statement and a claim form.

Ms East said: "The company expressed some suspicions about the claim particularly in view of the fact that they had asked for the defendant's passport and that was declined, so they placed the matter in the hands of the police for investigation."

Tests on the death certificate submitted to the company found McErlean's fingerprints on it.

He was arrested and during police interview he said he "didn't want to be destitute in old age" and needed £520,000.

He also said his wife had no knowledge about what he had done, Ms East added.

McErlean told police the documents were genuine but he had obtained them by bribing officials in Honduras.

After being charged in relation to that fraud, he was freed on bail on condition he not apply for a passport.

However, he did so the day after he was charged, claiming he had lost the original despite it being seized by police.

Officers intercepted the passport and McErlean was arrested on the M6 in Staffordshire and later charged with fraudulently obtaining a passport.

He received a total of six years behind bars for fraud in relation to the insurance claim, two counts of theft in connection with the pension payments and for one count of fraudulently obtaining a passport.

The court heard the twice-married father has convictions dating back to 1963, including for robbery and possession of a firearm and dishonesty.

In mitigation, defence counsel Peter Alcock said he had been mired in financial difficulty since the death of his first wife following a terminal illness.

He said: "He is sorry for that which he has done.

"He at least made admissions when he was interviewed in respect of the life insurance count.

"He didn't in fact receive anything from the policy."

Following sentencing, Martin Bradbeer, the investigating officer from Kent Police's serious economic crime unit, said: "McErlean not only faked his own death to claim from an insurance company, but had been claiming pensions relating to his father-in-law from a previous marriage, who had died in March 2007.

"Kent Police investigates all kinds of fraud, which can be complex and lengthy cases.

"McErlean had gone to a great deal of trouble to make illegal financial gain. Anyone committing offences of this type will be brought before the courts."