Mr Wootton pursued a personal injury claim against the local authority, after alleging that a tripping incident which resulted in a fracture to his wrist, was caused by a raised kerbstone. The claim had proceeded as a standard highways tripping case, with the Claimant relying upon on his own evidence and that of two friends who were both with him at the time of the accident.
In the written evidence relied upon, it was averred that “there was nothing else [other than the raised kerbstone] that could have caused Mr Wootton to fall” but also making the point that the Claimant had only minimal alcohol and was “was not a heavy drinker”. Prior to this point, there had been no suggestion of alcohol consumption within the evidence and as a result, the Defendant investigated the claim a little more deeply.
Unfortunately for Mr Wootton he had stated on his Facebook page that “alcohol and icy pavements don’t mix!” The Claimant had also reported to both a triage nurse and doctor at A&E that he had “slipped on ice”.
The Defendant, having served this evidence, then received an immediate discontinuance of the claim. But the matter did not end there.
Contempt of court - application to commit
Surrey County Council proceeded with Applications to Commit against the Claimant and his witnesses. In response to the application, Defences and Affidavits were filed by all three Defendants with Wootton denied any wrongdoing at all.
The case came before His Honour Judge Simpkiss, sitting as a High Court Judge in the RCJ.
All three denied any attempt to collude prior to preparation of witness evidence with the Claimant repeatedly asserting that he was following advice when he focussed his claim on the trip rather than any slip.
It should be noted that as a result of repeated references to the advice he had been given by his solicitors during the civil claim there was a clear waiver of any privilege and this allowed the Defendant’s solicitors access to the entire file held by those solicitors acting for the Claimant to enable them to properly consider his Defence.
An attendance note of a conversation between Mr Wootton and his solicitors following disclosure of the Facebook page and A&E records confirmed that he had mentioned ice at the outset of his claim but that he had been “told to forget the ice and focus on the trip”.
HHJ Simpkiss noted that this document was proof that Mr Wootton was aware he had not been giving a full account of his incident throughout the proceedings; whether this was his own dishonest account or whether on advice, it was dishonest conduct. In addition, the signing of the pleadings in response to the committal application were all held to be clear instances of contempt with all three Defendants held to be in contempt of court and received suspended custodial sentences.
It should also be noted that HHJ Simpkiss was not persuaded of any wrong-doing on the part of Mr Wootton’s solicitors in the civil claim.
All three were fortunate to receive suspended sentences as they were seen more as opportunistic fraudsters rather than an organised fraud ring.
This should serve as a reminder that Defendants will pursue proceedings for Contempt of Court and Claimants should be warned of the consequences of pursuing fraudulent claims. Not only do they risk losing their liberty but they will be penalised financially as no After The Event insurer would cover the costs associated with such claims.