London

Insurance fraud taxi driver admits contempt of court

A London taxi driver who falsely claimed he was forced to retire because of an accident has admitted his guilt at the High Court to contempt of court.

Michael Seabrook, 69, of Ilford, east London, was filmed on behalf of insurance company Aviva continuing to work after the accident in April 2006.

The company withdrew moves to have him jailed because he is seriously ill.

Aviva said the case - which it claimed was the first of its kind - should serve as a warning to others.

Two senior judges heard self-employed taxi driver Seabrook claimed £50,000 in respect of past and future "lost earnings" against A Barnes (trading as Pool Motors), insured by Aviva, after one of the firm's employees drove into the back of his taxi in north London.

David Melville QC, appearing for Aviva, said Seabrook began his "wholly untrue" damages claim at Ilford County Court.

Seabrook said he had had to give up work because of the accident and claimed past and future loss of earnings up to the age of 72.

The company had initially offered £17,000 to settle the claim but Seabrook had only received £500 when the offer was withdrawn, following the the covert filming by private detectives hired by Aviva.

Extremely unhappy

He was left £2,500 out of pocket when he agreed to pay Aviva £3,000 in respect of the company's wasted costs in defending itself against his action.

But Aviva was "extremely unhappy about his dishonesty" and decided to apply to the High Court for his committal to prison for contempt, as he had lied in county court, said Mr Melville.

Abdul Gofur, appearing for Seabrook, explained that his client had suffered a stroke and had other serious medical problems.

High Court judge Sir Anthony May, sitting with Mr Justice Wyn Williams, said it was "right and humane" that the action to jail Seabrook should be withdrawn, but said the insurers had been justified in bringing their contempt case.

Asked why Aviva did not try to pursue a fraud case against Mr Seabrook - an offence which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years' imprisonment - a company spokesperson said she did not wish to comment.

But she added: "Given the circumstances we felt it was not in the public interest to proceed further with any action.

"The court accepted our application to discontinue the proceedings on the grounds of the claimant's ill health."

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