An Aylesbury man who got caught up in a fatal ‘crash for cash’ scam has today been sentenced to 12 months in prison for causing death by careless driving.
Colin Lee, of York Place, was driving a van that crashed into a car that was the unintended victim of a staged collision.
Baljinder Gill was left stranded in the fast lane of a dual carriageway after she was caught up in the planned crash, through which a gang had hoped to defraud insurers. As Miss Gill, 34, went to retrieve some possessions from inside her Ford Fiesta it was struck by Lee’s Renault Trafic van and she suffered fatal injuries.
The incident happened at around 8.25pm on June 11, 2011, on the A40 Western Avenue, between the Swakeley roundabout and Denham, heading out of London.
After an eight-week trial, a jury at Reading Crown Court cleared 32-year-old Lee of causing death by dangerous driving but convicted him of causing death by careless driving.
A trio of men were found guilty of causing Miss Gill’s death by dangerous driving and conspiracy to commit fraud. They were today sentenced to a combined total of more than 30 years in jail.
Miss Gill, of Stanwell, near Staines, is the first person to have been killed in the UK during a ‘cash for crash’ collision.
Noel Lucas QC, prosecuting, told the jury Miss Gill was not the intended victim but the business van in front of her was targeted because the gang knew it would have insurance. The van driver stopped safely despite the attack but Miss Gill’s car rammed into the back of it. She left the immobile car in the lane with its hazard lights flashing and it was only when she went back to it that she was fatally struck. Drivers ‘rubber necking’ at the scene also caused a pile-up on the opposite side of the dual carriageway, leaving one person with serious injuries.
Conditions at the time of the crash were dry and light with good visibility. High Court Judge Mr Justice Sweeney said the manner of Lee’s driving fell short and he should have been able prevent a collision with Miss Gill’s stricken car.
As well as a prison sentence, Lee was banned from driving for a year and will have to re-sit a test before being allowed back on the road.
During the trial, the jury heard how an Audi A3 car driven by Andrzez Skowron, 25, swerved in front of a Volkswagen Passat. The Passat, driven by 32-year-old Jacek Kowalczyk, braked sharply, causing the shunt.
Radoslaw Bielawski, who owned one of the vehicles, refused to testify but told officers at the scene he was Arthur Okrutny. Okrutny, 23, was not involved in the incident but was at a party in London when he said he received phone calls from Bielawski offering him £300 to tell police it was him who had been in the car.
Miss Gill’s family said she was the innocent victim of a ‘cold blooded and calculated incident’.
In a statement read by family liaison officer, constable Phillip Hannam, the family said: “You cannot start to imagine how we felt as a family when later we were told by police that Baljinder’s death was a result of a ‘cash for crash’ collision by a group of heartless men who arranged to carry out the crash.
“They were reckless in their actions that day. They took out beautiful daughter and sister and cousin from us and we were prevented from ever saying goodbye to her.
“Today the sentencing of all the offenders has brought some comfort to our family but nothing can replace the life of Baljinder.
“We will never be able to forgive the men involved in this act of greed and deceit.
“The events of the evening in June 2011 will never be forgotten, our family will never recover from this tragic event which took the life of our beautiful daughter, sister and truly loved member of our family from us.
“We are relieved that after such a lengthy trial that justice has at last been served today and we hope that the result of this trial reaches out to the ears of those people that are involved in the planning of similar incidents of deliberately crashing to obtain compensation for alleged injuries whilst putting others at risk.
“As a united family we hope that the result of these court proceedings will prevent any other innocent person being killed or injured on the road through the greed of others.”
Skowron, of Shelley Gardens, Wembley, was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment for causing death by dangerous driving and conspiracy to commit fraud.
Bielawski, 24, of Rosewood Avenue, Greenford, was jailed for 10 years and three months for causing death by dangerous driving and conspiracy to commit fraud. He also pleaded guilty to perverting the course of justice.
Kowalczyk, of Fraser Road, Greenford, was sentenced to 10 years and three months imprisonment for causing death by dangerous driving, conspiracy to commit fraud and perverting the course of justice.
Okrutny was sentenced to a year in jail for perverting the course of justice.
Insurance Fraud Bureau figures reveal cash for crash fraud costs the motor industry £1.7 million per day.
Sgt James Upton, of the Thames Valley Police road death investigation team, said: “The criminals who planned this crash had a total disregard for the safety of the innocent people they targeted. They also had the audacity to try to fraudulently claim compensation two days after the collision in the knowledge that an innocent person had died.”
Baljit Ubhey OBE, chief crown prosecutor for Thames and Chiltern Crown Prosecution Service, said: “The risk that these defendants took with the lives of innocent motorists such as Miss Gill was enormous. The potential advantage to them was comparatively small. Whiplash to three of them would have secured them between £12,000 and 15,000, plus whatever damage was done to their car. They selfishly placed their own financial gain over and above the life of Miss Gill.
“The result of this case sends a clear message to those who might consider becoming involved in similar activities that they not only risk the lives of innocent members of the community, but they will be brought robustly to justice.”