horwich farrelly

Holiday sickness fraudsters convicted

November, 1, 2018

A family who involved their own children in a fraudulent holiday illness claim have been sentenced to three months in prison, suspended for two years after admitting to concocting a fake claim for gastric illness to win compensation. They were also ordered to pay fines of £750 each and will also face a significant bill for legal costs.

Background

Michael Jameson, aged 43, his partner, Claire Weir (35), her sister, Jane Weir (38) and their mother, Janet Weir (63), all from Liverpool, booked an all-inclusive week’s holiday to the Magic Aqua Rock Gardens resort in Alicante with Jet2holidays in July 2015.

No complaints about their accommodation, food or experiences were made whilst on holiday, nor during the weeks and months after their return but, more than a year later, they claimed that all of them, plus four children, had fallen ill due to food poisoning during their stay and made claims, including costs, totalling over £45,000. They made the claim for compensation after stating that they, and the four children, had all suffered for days with nausea, stomach cramps, diarrhoea and vomiting, as a result of food poisoning caused by negligence, and that the symptoms resulted in a loss of enjoyment on their holiday.

However, upon investigating the claim, Jet2holidays and Horwich Farrelly discovered evidence showing that the claims were a complete fabrication with social media posts by a number of the claimants painting a very different picture of their time on holiday.

The day after she returned from holiday, Janet Weir posted to Facebook thanking her daughter for a great birthday present. “Had the best holiday ever,’ she wrote, “lovely hotel, food and brilliant company didn’t want to come home…”
Daughters, Claire and Jane, who were also involved in the fraud, posted replies to their mother the same day that also shed doubt on the credibility of the subsequent claims. Claire Weir posted, “Glad you enjoyed yerself, loved every minute of it myself,” whilst older sister Jane said, “Wish I was there now mum.”

Their clear satisfaction at their recent trip came despite telling their doctor they were still suffering from diarrhoea, stomach pain and cramps when the posts were uploaded.

Similarly, just two days later, when he also claimed to be suffering from the same symptoms, Michael Jameson used Facebook to show himself enjoying a day out at a cricket club.

Further evidence used to cast doubt on their claims came from the resort itself. Records held by Magic Aqua Rock Gardens Resort showed the families’ food and alcohol consumption – including lager, vodka, gin, amaretto and liquors – whilst on holiday and this was completely at odds with the group claiming to have been suffering from nausea, diarrhoea, stomach pain and cramps at the time.

Outcome

Although they blamed the advice of their previous solicitors, an accusation disputed by the firms involved, all four defendants pleaded guilty at Liverpool High Court where Justice Choudhury referred during sentencing to the 500% increase in holiday sickness claims that the travel industry has seen in recent years and that crimes like this are “not victimless as some might think”.

Whilst the defendants entered a guilty plea shortly before the hearing, Justice Choudhury commented that the evidence against them was, “little short of overwhelming.”

Comment

Steve Heapy, CEO of Jet2.com and Jet2holidays said: “We have led the way to tackle the issue of false sickness claims so that holidaymakers do not expose themselves to the risks that come with getting involved in such dishonest activity. For some time we have warned that making false claims could lead to serious consequences, and this ruling shows how serious they can be. It should leave anyone making a fake sickness claim in no doubt – we will robustly investigate and defend any claims that are dishonest or illegitimate – and the courts will not hesitate to punish anyone engaging in such fraud.”

David Scott, a fraud partner at Horwich Farrelly, the law firm that investigated the claims on behalf of Jet2 Holidays, said: “There has been a reported 500% increase in holiday sickness claims since 2013 and we believe that only a very small number of them are genuine. Horwich Farrelly have successfully defended almost 3,000 holiday sickness claims in barely two years and many share the same evidence that we saw in this case. We are pleased that this family accepted that their claims were fraudulent. They saw this as a way of making some easy money at the expense of honest holiday makers and they will now pay the price for this stupidity.”

Implications

In some quarters Britain was referred to as the ‘fake sick man of Europe’ after unscrupulous businesses and touts were able to exploit a legal loophole and encourage a huge rise in fake sickness claims over recent years. This led to a 500% increase in gastric sickness* claims made by British holidaymakers between 2013 and 2016, prompting some hoteliers to warn that they would withdraw holidays from the UK market.

Together with Horwich Farrelly, Jet2holidays led the campaign to stamp this out and in April this year, the Ministry of Justice announced the extension of Fixed Recoverable Costs to cover holiday sickness claims brought under the Package Travel Regulations, making defence costs predictable and thus deterring bogus claims.

The Government also followed this up by clamping down on the practice of cold calling without consent, and further proposals are being put forward by the Financial Conduct Authority when they take over regulation of Claims Management Companies (CMCs) from April 2019 to ensure there is an end to misleading practices and dishonest activity.

* https://www.gov.uk/government/news/move-to-end-bogus-holiday-sickness-claims

 

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