Kowalczak, Photograph: Thames Valley Police/PA
Radoslaw Bielawski, Jacek Kowalczyk, Andrzez Skowron and Artur Okrutny were involved in a scam in which they would stage collisions with innocent drivers in order to claim personal injury compensation – reportedly up to £20,000.
The aim of the scam was to use two cars driven by the conspirators to engineer a crash involving a third, innocent, vehicle. This required the first of the cars, an Audi A3, to cut in front of the second car, a VW Passat. This would cause the VW Passat to brake. The VW Passat wold brake to a halt, thereby causing a third vehicle (the target vehicle) behind to crash into the back of the VW Passat.
In June 2011, Baljinder Kaur Gill, 34, was driving on the A40, at the western edge of London. She was in fact, not the intended target. The Audi cut in front of the VW causing it to brake. The VW braked harshly intending the target vehicle, a Ford Transit, to crash into the rear of the VW. The driver of the Transit had seen the Audi cut across the VW and was able to brake sharply to avoid a collision. Unfortunately, Baljinder who was driving behind the Transit, was unable to avoid hitting the rear of the Transit. As she got out of her vehicle and was retrieving some personal items from the rear, her vehicle was hit for a second time by a Renault Traffic van – not a part of the scam.
The second collision was described as ‘an explosion of metal, glass and dust’, as the Transit, driven by Colin Lee, 34, was travelling at 70mph – 10mph faster than the permitted limit. This caused minor damage to the VW (as the impact between Baljinder’s vehicle and the Transit had caused the Transit to impact with the VW).
Baljinder Kaur Gill died at the scene.
The two cars (Audi and VW) were in telephone contact throughout. Bielawski, who was driving the VW but owned the Audi, had pulled over in order to collect the insurance details of the Transit driver. He realised that if he gave his true identity to the police, he would be exposed as the owner of the Audi and the joint enterprise would be revealed. This sparked an agreement between Bielawski and Okrunty that the latter’s details would be given to the police – essentially, Bielawski would pretend to be Okrunty. For this, Okrunty would be paid £300. This would later involve false witness statements to be given to police.
Some days later, false insurance claims were made on behalf of Bielawski and his two passengers (pretending that Okrunty was travelling in the rear of the VW)
The Court was told that such scams cost the insurance industry £392m per year in false claims.
The sentencing remarks are available here.
These were driving offences but there was also an element of fraud and a perversion of the justice system. The men were charged and sentenced as follows:
Skowron was convicted of causing death by dangerous driving and conspiracy to commit fraud. 10 years.
Bielawski was convicted of causing death by dangerous driving and conspiracy to commit fraud. He pleaded to committing acts tending to pervert the course of justice. 10 years 3 months.
Kowalczyk was convicted of causing death by dangerous driving and conspiracy to commit fraud. He pleaded to committing acts tending to pervert the course of justice. 10 years 3 months.
Okrunty was convicted of committing acts tending to pervert the course of justice. 12 months.
Colin Lee, the driver of the van which hit and killed Baljinder, received 12 months for causing death by careless driving.
Deprivation orders (to take the cars away from the defendants) were not made for the VW and Audi vehicles. No reasons were given in the transcript although it is evident that the issue was discussed between counsel and the Judge, and the Judge was persuaded not to make such an order.
The Judge made it clear that deterrent sentences were necessary. Presumably because of the prevalence of this type of insurance scam was the primary motivation.
Make-up of the sentences
As there were some pleas and some trials, it is not as simple as working out each sentence in isolation. For example, one may think you add the right sentence for causing death by dangerous driving to the right sentence for conspiracy to commit fraud, and (where appropriate) add on the right sentence (minus a discount for the plea) for perverting the course of justice.
However, there is a principle called totality which requires a sentence to be moderated, taking in to account the overall criminality. For example, where a burglar pleads to 25 burglaries, and each burglary is worth 12 months, the correct sentence is plainly not 25 years.
What judges usually do is take a view of the case as a whole; what sentence properly reflects all the offences?
In this case it was necessary to mark the fact that an innocent person died, the fact that the accident was deliberate and also the fact that the scam was designed to make a significant sum of money.
For Colin Lee, again it was necessary to mark the fact that an innocent person died. 12 months is about right for this sort of driving, however one cant help but feel a little sorry for Mr Lee – there’s an element of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, but of course he should not have been speeding.