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Footballer handed suspended sentence for contempt of court

Motorist pays the penalty for faking whiplash as Attorney General's Office sends out a message

18 April 2016

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A semi-professional footballer has been handed a four-month suspended sentence after being found guilty of faking a £2,000 whiplash claim.

Gary Burnett, 24, made the injury claim following an accident at a McDonald's drive-thru restaurant in Birkenhead, Merseyside, in October 2013.

The footballer claimed to have suffered injuries to his neck and back which left him unable to play for his team, Cheshire-based Northwich Victoria, for around four weeks.

However, Burnett was caught tweeting about playing football 24 hours after making his claim for whiplash.

One tweet, referring to an away match, read: 'Nice little trek to Kendal later for footy'. He also boasted about playing and scoring in the FA Trophy less than three weeks after the accident.

At a hearing at the Royal Courts of Justice last week, Burnett admitted to being in contempt of court and was committed to prison for four months, suspended for 12 months.

Handing down the sentence, Mr Justice Jay said that 'a deterrent sentence is called for even if low value, there is no alternative but for a custodial term'.

Jay J added: 'He would have recovered damages it is clear from the evidence if he hadn't been rumbled.'

Solicitor General Robert Buckland QC MP instigated proceedings last year. Speaking after the hearing he said: 'This is a serious case, highlighted by blatant dishonesty and a clear contempt by the offender.

'Burnett knowingly lied in order to benefit himself and the public interest demanded that proceedings be taken forward.

'Burnett is now deservedly paying the penalty for his actions and I hope this sends a message to anyone tempted to try and do the same thing.'

Burnett has already been ordered to pay £11,000 in legal costs by Wigan County Court to insurer Aviva after the court ruled his claim was fundamentally dishonest.

Investigations by Horwich Farrelly, representing the insurer, revealed the incriminating tweets, while online match reports and other social media posts showed Burnett had continued to play throughout the period.

After the firm submitted the evidence to Burnett's solicitors, he discontinued the claim. However, Aviva were not prepared to drop the matter and, in July 2015, Wigan County Court ruled the claim to be fundamentally dishonest.

The judge referred the matter to the Attorney General, resulting in Burnett's guilty plea.

Richard Hiscocks, Aviva's director of casualty claims, said: 'This judgement demonstrates that faking an injury claim is a crime and will be dealt with accordingly.

'The message from the Attorney General's Office is clear that they won't tolerate this kind of contempt for which Burnett is now paying the penalty.

'And it's not a victimless crime as honest customers end up paying through their premiums, which is why Aviva is determined to tackle fraudulent behaviour while taking care of genuine claimants.'

Jared Mallinson, a partner at Horwich Farrelly, added: 'For the government's chief legal adviser to deem it to be in the public interest to prosecute Burnett for contempt highlights the claimant's blatant demonstration of fraud and his disregard for the courts.

'He saw an opportunity for a quick-win, despite the claim being without merit, and was prepared to take money that he simply did not deserve, at the expense of honest policy-holders and the insurer.'

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