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Hertfordshire man given suspended prison sentence, told to carry out 120 hours' unpaid work and ordered to pay £4,000 costs for trying to defraud county council after car crash

A driver made a £25,000 insurance claim to Hertfordshire County Council (HCC) after alleging his car crashed because of a pole left in the road by highways workers.

But investigators became suspicious that the claim was fraudulent. The claimant was charged with fraud, convicted by a jury and sentenced to six months in prison, suspended for 18 months. He was also ordered to carry out 120 hours' unpaid work and pay £4,000 costs to the council.

St Albans Crown Court heard that Fungai Gwekwerere, 41, submitted the claim for injury and vehicle replacement after being involved in an accident while driving in Hemel Hempstead at around 2.30am on June 9, 2018.

He claimed he had hit a "dark green pole" left on the side of the road by highways workers carrying out road works and that this had caused his car to flip onto its side.

However, two county council highways team officers who attended the scene noted car debris and a damaged pedestrian guard where the foundations had been knocked out of the ground, indicating Gwekwerere had been speeding.

They found no evidence of any street furniture in the road, raising suspicion that the claim was fraudulent. The matter was subsequently referred to the county council’s shared anti-fraud service for investigation.

During interview under caution by council investigators, Gwekwerere said that he left the pub in the early hours having had one-and-a-half pints. He maintained that he was travelling at around 30mph and that the collision was caused by the pole, which he believed had been removed from the scene by a police officer attending the accident.

He was summonsed to appear at St Albans Magistrates' Court on July 17, 2020, charged with fraud by false representation contrary to Section 1 (2) of the Fraud Act 2006. He pleaded not guilty and elected for trial before a judge and jury at Crown court.

His trial began on November 2. Two Hertfordshire Constabulary officers who attended the accident scene said that the only debris removed from the road was the damaged railings. This was supported by bodycam footage.

Gwekwerere, of Hemel Hempstead, was found guilty by the jury after 45 minutes' deliberation. He was sentenced on Friday November 26.

Cllr Bob Deering, HCC's cabinet member for resources and performance, said: “People who try to defraud the council are taking away much-needed resources from other council services and service users. We take issues like this very seriously and will always investigate if we believe there has been any wrongdoing.”

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