A "crash for cash" fraudster who lived the high life on the proceeds of staged accidents and cost the insurance industry £1.6 million was jailed today.
Mohammed Patel, 24, charged £500 a time to stage accidents which enabled fraudsters to claim an average of £17,000 from insurers.
He staged at least 93 crashes, earning himself around £46,000, Manchester Minshull Street Crown Court heard.
Patel, of Nottingham Drive, Bolton, Greater Manchester, admitted one count of conspiracy to defraud, six counts of dangerous driving and four counts of driving while disqualified.
He was jailed for four-and-a-half years today and banned from driving for three-and-a-half years.
William Baker, prosecuting, said Patel's earnings funded an "Aladdin's cave" at the home of his unemployed girlfriend Ettorina Hay.
The court heard the pair enjoyed luxurious foreign holidays and drove expensive cars.
Mr Baker said the scam was exposed by suspicious office workers at Bovis Homes, who overlooked the Eden Point roundabout on the A34 at Cheadle Hulme.
He said that in the latter part of 2005 "they became suspicious that road traffic accidents were being staged" because of the number and similarities of every crash.
Mr Baker, describing the set-up, said: "One vehicle colliding with another at low speed with minor damage and often the same person driving the lead vehicle.
"They told drivers of the rear vehicles they thought they were the victim of fraud."
Mr Baker said: "Mohammed Patel staged the road traffic accidents. He drove cars on to the roundabout and then stopped them so abruptly the vehicle behind could not avoid a collision.
"He did this because of the widely-held belief that the person who drives into the rear of someone else is in the wrong and they will admit liability."
Fraudulent claims, submitted by people not present at the scene whom Patel purported to be, were then made.
Claims would include compensation for injuries, such as whiplash, damage to the vehicle, a hire car, and storage of the damaged vehicle.
Mr Baker said Patel staged the accidents between May 2005 and August 2008.
He said each claim averaged £17,000 and fraudulent "crash for cash" claims costs the insurance industry around £350 million.
The cost to the motorist is an extra £49 a year on their insurance premium, he added.
Mr Baker said: "He spent more than £46,000 in cash on two cars, designer clothes, holidays, and paying the domestic bills of his girlfriend.
"There's evidence he received £500 per claim... and was involved in staging at least 92 collisions."
Patel was arrested days after he was observed staging two accidents in a single day, the court heard.
On July 30 last year he staged an early afternoon collision at Junction 10 on the M65 near Burnley, Lancashire.
At around 5pm he staged another accident, while driving a Golf, at Trafford Park in Manchester, and gave a false name.
Mr Baker said that Patel was laughed at by the other party when he asked for £950 to cover the damage to his vehicle.
Patel was arrested in Bolton on August 7 last year and gave a prepared statement to police. He pleaded guilty to the charges at the earliest opportunity.
Patel paid £46,000 into his girlfriend's bank account, the court heard.
When police searched the home of Hay, 29, of Kirkby Road, Bolton, they found receipts from stores including Selfridges, Toys R Us and Marks and Spencer.
A £965 receipt for a flat-screen television was discovered at the single mother's home.
A £10,000 second-hand Mercedes C Class Coupe and a £14,000 Lincoln Navigator, which cost a total of £3,700 to insure, were also in her name, the court heard.
The pair enjoyed trips to Turkey, Barcelona and France, and Patel paid £1,000 for her to visit her brother in South Africa and even contributed towards her grocery bill.
Mr Baker said: "The two enjoyed a high lifestyle from the proceeds of fraud."
He said Hay, who is from Malawi and has a son, "enjoyed a much higher standard of living than she would have experienced living on benefits of £90 per week".
Her home was newly decorated and "full of expensive furniture and electrical equipment", Mr Baker said.
Hay admitted one count of converting criminal property and one count of possessing criminal property.
She is due to be sentenced on December 18 and faces a maximum sentence of seven years.
Judge Bernard Lever told Patel that what he did "was not a victimless crime".
He said: "The wickedness of these staged accidents is that you gave no thought to the victim.
"The victim may have been an elderly person, a person with a heart condition, a person of a nervous disposition."
Judge Lever said that although Patel deliberately staged slow-speed collisions to protect himself from whiplash, he gave no thought to the potentially serious psychological and physical impact on his victims.
He added: "Only a significant custodial sentence will send the direct message out to the public and to other people who are tempted to behave in the disgraceful and dangerous way in which you have behaved."
Richard Davies, deputy chairman of the Insurance Fraud Bureau (IFB), said outside court: "This sends out a very, very strong message to the fraudsters that they will be dealt with and the insurance industry will seek criminal proceedings in the most serious of cases.
"In this instance the custodial sentence is entirely appropriate."
He said that currently, the IFB was investigating 28 similar suspected operations around the country.
More defendants involved in the crash for cash fraud are due to be sentenced today.