Walsall Metropolitan Borough Council (Walsall MBC) has successfully prosecuted a West Bromwich woman for contempt of court. The Council applied for a custodial sentence for Karen Britton who made false statements in a document verified by a Statement of Truth, then gave evidence at a trial of the claim whilst under oath.
Following evidence from a witness outlining the fraudulent nature of the claim being made by Ms Britton, Walsall MBC, supported by BLM lawyer Emma Taylor, took the decision to pursue her by way of private prosecution for contempt of court.
At the hearing for her committal to prison on 28 November, Ms Britton admitted that she had committed fraud and blamed it on her “chaotic” lifestyle stating that she had “made a reckless decision” at a time when she was an alcoholic.
Despite changing her plea, His Honour Judge McKenna sentenced her to three months imprisonment, suspending the sentence for a period of two years. He commented that the making of fraudulent claims strikes at the heart of the court system and damages public interest in it.
Walsall Council Leader Councillor Mike Bird said: “The council takes the issue of fraud very seriously and we will not hesitate to pursue a criminal prosecution where a finding of fundamental dishonesty is made in a civil liability actions made against the council, as was the case with Ms Britton’s claim."
Emma Taylor, lawyer, BLM, said: “Cases such as this demonstrate the importance of maintaining a robust defence in the face of what appears to be a fraudulent claim. The sentence received by Ms Britton should act as a deterrent to those attempting to defraud local authorities whose resources are already stretched to the limit and show that they are not afraid to pursue fraudulent claimants by all legal means.”
Gareth Compton, Barrister, No.5 Chambers added: “The Courts are increasingly showing that they will punish fraudulent claims for damages in the most draconian way they can, by passing custodial sentences.”
Ms Britton alleged that on 5 May 2013 she was walking along Bradford Street in Walsall when she tripped and fell due to a defective pavement and suffered an injury to her ankle. She engaged solicitors to pursue a claim on her behalf. During the pre-litigation stage, Walsall MBC received a letter from an informant who advised that the claimant had not fallen where she alleged, but in fact, she had injured herself chasing a neighbour’s escaped dog whilst inebriated. In the face of that evidence, Walsall MBC maintained a robust defence to the claim.
During the trial which was heard before His Honour Judge Gregory on 4 May 2017, the claimant maintained her version of events. However, the Judge dismissed her claim preferring the evidence of Walsall MBC’s informant to that of the claimant.
Emma Taylor, Associate, BLM, email: email@example.com