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60 guilty in 'cash for crash' scam
A total of 60 people have been convicted or pleaded guilty to being involved in one of the country's largest "cash for crash" scams.
The fraud was so bad that people living in Derwentside, County Durham, where the main players behind the scam were based, had to pay up to £100 extra for their car insurance.
Police uncovered the scale of the fraud while investigating the activities of members of the Wright family, from Burnhope, who came to national prominence in 2009 when two local streets they had named after themselves were changed by officers in a bid to bolster public confidence.
Concerns over local organised crime led to a major investigation, named Operation Nacho, assisted by the Insurance Fraud Bureau and other agencies.
They looked at 1,800 accidents handled by two particular firms and swiftly identified 261 which looked suspicious. Investigators suspected some were entirely fictitious, some staged and some vastly exaggerated.
They identified 25 accidents which were considered to have the highest impact on the public, both financially and in terms of suspected organised crime involvement, and these were selected for detailed investigation. Those 25 accidents alone resulted in more than £514,000 being obtained for the claimants, though the real figure was estimated to be more than £3 million.
A series of trials involving 70 defendants began last year at Newcastle Crown Court, with 60 people convicted or pleading guilty to being involved.
Seven were members of the Wright family, and key players included 40-year-old Paul Jonathon Wright, known as Jonty, who ran PJ Autos, a recovery, storage and vehicle hire business. He is yet to be sentenced for his part in the scam which involved making false claims for storing damaged cars and hiring out replacement vehicles at up to £200 a day.
Also involved was his older brother Alan, 49, who was jailed for four years after a trial last year. A police source described Alan Wright as the head of the family, and he was found to have had four fake crashes within just 10 months.
Another family member bought an Audi with 112,000 miles on the clock, staged an accident in it near his home in Burnhope, and when he made a claim after apparently writing it off, its mileage had dropped to 37,000, making it much more valuable. The claimant also falsely claimed to have suffered whiplash, the source said.