Four fraudsters have today been found guilty of a ‘spectacular’ plot to stage a bus collision and defraud insurance firms out of half a million pounds in a ‘cash for crash’ scam.
Insurance firm boss Mohammed Gulzar, aged 30, his employee Shoaib Nawaz, 24 and two other men Javed Khan, 46, and Sami Selam, 36, were found guilty of conspiracy to defraud following a six week trial at Sheffield Crown Court.
Adjourning the case for sentencing reports to be prepared, Judge Graham Robinson remanded Gulzar in custody telling the jury he had done his ‘level best to avoid being tried’ by pretending he was mentally ill.
The court heard Gulzar and Nawaz filled a single decker First Mainline bus with passengers and driver Adam Herbert - who was in on the plot - deliberately crashed it at low speed into a Vauxhall Safira.
The smash at the junction of Scott Road and Ellesmere Road in Pitsmoor, Sheffield, happened on June 2011.
Police said today the crash initally seemed to be a straight-forward enquiry.
But it propelled the force’s economic crime team into an investigation that would uncover a fraud worth almost half a million pounds.
A further seven defendants admitted their part in the fraud at the start of the trial.
Sheffield Crown Court heard police enquiries began after the Scott Road smash.
The case - dubbed Operation Lollipop - led South Yorkshire Police to an accident claims company called City Claims 4 U, based at Pitsmoor Road, Sheffield, and run by defendants Mohammed Omar Gulzar - also known as Bobby and Shoaib Nawaz.
Officers worked closely with the Insurance Fraud Bureau, a London-based industry organisation, and FirstGroup to identify and gather evidence.
They identified suspects involved in ten ’road crashes’ at Halifax, Sheffield and Rotherham between January 1 and July 31 2011.
Police said warrants were executed at addresses linked to City Claims 4 U on October 3 2011, after officers received information it had been submitting fraudulent claims to insurance companies.
Those were boosted by alleged false claims for the hiring out of replacement vehicles. Which were provided by CCC Hire 4 U another company owned by Mohammed Omar Gulzar.
DC Mark Wootton, who led the investigation, said: “This was a professionally-planned, highly-organised group of individuals who set out to defraud a number of insurance companies by making deliberate false claims and pocketing the money for themselves.
“The fraud involved false claims for personal injury, vehicle damage, over-inflated recovery and storage costs, together with extortionate and false claims for hire vehicles from CCC Hire 4 U, a company owned and run by Mohammed Omar Gulzar.”
South Yorkshire Police’s Economic Crime Unit manager, Graham Wragg said: “The police have a duty to protect life and, while some of the accidents were totally fictitious, others involved members of the public and placed them in danger.
“After their convictions today, the police will use the Proceeds of Crime Act to recover, as far as possible, any benefit these fraudsters had from their criminal activity.”
Ben Fletcher, Director of the IFB, currently investigating 90+ criminal gangs involved in ‘crash- for-cash’ fraud, said: “Scams like this expose the shocking lengths fraudsters go to make money through what they wrongly assume is a victimless crime.
“Crash-for-cash costs the insurance industry £392 million per year, but its honest policyholders who ultimately have their pockets picked by the fraudsters.
“But beyond the financial impact, this is a dangerous crime. Stage managing crashes is reckless. No-one can control that series of events and fraudsters are gambling with the lives of innocent people when they try to do so - particularly when a 12-tonne bus is involved.”
Dave Alexander, Regional Managing Director for First UK Bus in the North Region, said: “We are pleased to have worked in partnership with South Yorkshire Police and the IFB to bring these criminals to justice. At First we take strong action against fraudsters.
“We have fantastic in-house investigation and claims handling teams who, with the help of CCTV technology fitted to the majority of our 6,500-strong bus fleet, work tirelessly to both identify and prevent all instances of fraud.
“Our passengers and their safety and security is our highest priority.
“Although the collision in question was a minor bump, the consequences could have been much worse.
“To have potentially put people’s lives at risk, by staging a collision was dangerous, callous and quite unbelievable.
“I can assure our customers that we will continue to relentlessly pursue any instances of fraud on our buses, because ultimately it’s the honest, fare paying customer who is the real victim when unscrupulous people try and cheat the system.”
Three defendants were acquitted by the jury - they were Nasir Hussain, Liam Howden, Kiran Shaheen.
All defendants will be sentenced at a date to be fixed.