Hydra nets crash for cash fraudsters

March 26, 2009

Two London men have been jailed for their part in a fraud ring that claimed £3m for a string of bogus motor “accident” claims in the London area between 2005 and 2007.

Ahmad Bolkhari-Ghahi, 24, and Hussein Hassani, 29, both of notorious crime-hotspot no fixed abode, received custodial sentences at Blackfriars Crown Court on 18 March ‚ though Hassani decided attending court might be ill-advised and stayed away. A warrant has been issued for his arrest.

The men were apprehended followed an 18-month joint operation by the Insurance Fraud Bureau (IFB) and City of London Police (CoLP) codenamed Operation Hydra.

The IFB contacted detectives after its members identified multiple claims showing similar features such as addresses, mobile phone numbers and bank accounts and multiple bogus insurance policies created with more than 20 insurers.

Judge Daniel Worsley described the gang’s work as a  cunning, sophisticated and meticulously planned motor insurance fraud.” Whether and how Bolkhari-Ghani acknowledged the compliment is not recorded.

John Beadle, Chairman of the Insurance Fraud Bureau said: “This shows the positive results that can be achieved by the insurance industry and law enforcement working in unison. Our industry is no longer an easy target for these criminals and we are determined to protect our honest customers.

Bolkhari-Ghahi was jailed for three years and four months. Four years in prison await Mr Hassani as and when he turns up again.

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March 26, 2009

The market for Electric vehicles (EVs) may at last be starting to achieve critical mass. With Nissan and Tata both apparently set to begin EV production in the UK, the beginnings of a network of recharging points springing up in major cities, and with London mayor Boris Johnson Twittering on about “big plans on electric cars” after test driving a Tesla Roadster, EVs are finally starting to look more attractive.

But enthusiastic new green motorists could be in for a shock (hopefully not of the electrical kind) when they start looking for insurance. Insurers are wary because of the lack of statistics on EVs and so tend to lump them in with kit cars or one-offs, i.e. charging higher premiums.

Specialist broker Adrian Flux has set up an electric car division to ensure that when EVs buyers will have at least one option for cheaper insurance.

“We’ve been insuring electric vehicles for many years,” says Gerry Bucke, commercial director at Adrian Flux. “However, most of them to date have been low-performance models, such as milk floats or the cute mini-cars like the G-Whiz. They are still mostly a niche market for city commuting and shopping, and aren’t seen as risky.

“But the new generation is a different matter. They are quieter than petrol cars and with very fast acceleration – in the case of the Tesla, 0-60 in less than four seconds, without the usual roar of a performance car. This is going to change how people behave. Not just the EV drivers themselves, but other drivers, and pedestrians too.”

Bucke says that that a 2009 Tesla Roadster, owned and driven by a 48-year-old man in the Norfolk NR20 area with five years’ no-claims, should cost about £750 to insure comprehensively. A roughly equivalent petrol-driven performance car, the Porsche 911 Turbo, would cost perhaps slightly more – around £800 – for a similar level of cover.

“Until insurance companies get the statistics, they might be tempted to load premiums just to be on the safe side. We want to make sure customers aren’t penalised for going green, and we’ll be working hard to help the insurance companies get it right,” says Bucke.

March 26, 2009

Between now and the summer Bankstone News is profiling some of the locations we’ll be calling at on our monkey-bike-back charity fundraising marathon this year (see previous news stories for details). This week we’re wearing eye-liner.

North Yorkshire fishing port Whitby provides the picturesque setting for several of the key scenes in Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula, template for no end of Gothic weirdness to follow.

Here the Russian ship Demeter washes ashore in a storm, deserted but for its dead captain roped to the mast, with “something like a large wolf” seen leaping ashore. Here Lucy Westenra, best friend of the hero’s fiancèe, turns vampyric and gets the obligatory stake through the heart. Here the fiancèe herself, Wilhelmina “Mina” Murray, gets severely freaked out amongst the graves by moonlit ruin Whitby Abbey.

Here too, in the year of our Lord 1977, BBC Films came to make its acclaimed two-part mini-series Count Dracula (its title cleverly avoiding confusion with other well-known Draculas, e.g. East-End boxer Terry Dracula, agony aunt Jackie Dracula, and the BBC’s own continuity announcer Hermione Dracula).

The BBC production sees French smoothy Louis Jourdan ascending walls in a distinctly more bat-like fashion that Adam West ever managed, flying by the power of an unfurled black cape, lycanthropecising, exuding icy charm. and general hamming it up. There’s plenty of bloody fanged strumpets and dry ice swishing round assorted cemeteries, and Frank Finlay puts in an accomplished performance as vampire nemesis Eddie Van Helsing.

Undaunted by all this, Bankstone’s brave monkey bike boys will concentrate on avoiding the fate of Isadora Duncan by watching carefully where they drape their capes. Fangs in advance for helping in their noble cause by visiting justgiving.com/monkeymoviestars to support a more benevolent and less sinister airborne presence in the skies above North East England: the Yorkshire Air Ambulance service.

March 25, 2009

Man plus car mean danger! Ladies nice! So says self proclaimed “road safety and motoring services champion” GEM Motoring Assist (when was the competition?). That at least is the gist of the champ’s well-timed ‚ if imperfectly sustained ‚ attempt to ingratiate itself with female drivers around the Mother’s Day weekend,

GEM bloke David Williams contends: ”If you look at accident statistics, men come out worse than women.” Whilst men drive 30% further each year on average, the argument goes, World Health Organiation statistics show three times as many males killed in road collisions.

Ah, but were they driving at the time ‚ and were they responsible for said collisions? Williams thinks so. “Women are more likely to have low speed crashes,” he accepts, “especially at junctions, but these seldom lead to death or injury. Male crashes, on the other hand, are more often linked to risk taking and law breaking.”

Want more stats? “Department for Transport figures show that in 2006 87 per cent of those convicted of motoring offences in the UK were men,” says Williams, and “of those convicted for dangerous driving, 96 per cent were men.”

The problem, it seems, may be seated in the groin region. Men have hundreds of times more testosterone in their blood than women ‚ fuelling risk-taking behaviour. As the production of sex hormones wanes with age, so does dangerous driving. By the time they’re in their sixties men are only fractionally more likely than women to perish at the wheel ‚ and, for the pernickety, we are talking small fractions here, not big ones.

After a lengthy digression into evolutionary theory of dubious political correctness (hunting vs. child rearing etc.) Williams ends up concluding that men are “naturally better at car control, but females have better self control. Statistically, this latter attribute is more effective at keeping you alive.”

All of which chimes with figures published by AA Insurance last year confirming that male drivers generally make bigger claims than their female counterparts. Average claims made by young male drivers come in at £4,500 compared with £2,700 for females. Hence the (highly sexist) lower premiums.

Somehow, Bankstone News suspects this debate isn’t quite over yet.

March 25, 2009

Motor insurers may need to look again at crass stupidity exclusions after the Halifax Evening Courier reported the story of a Yorkshire man who left his BMW teetering over the edge of a 100ft precipice ‚ because the sat nav told him to!

Robert Jones, 43, of Doncaster, trusted his in car navigation system when it took him down a narrow footpath off a scenic road near Todmorden, West Yorkshire, ending in a sheer drop. Only a wire mesh fence stopped the vehicle short of certain total loss.

Suggesting wakefulness may have been an issue, Jones described the incident as a “nightmare”. He told the local paper: “It [the sat nav] kept insisting the path was a road, even as it was getting narrower and steeper, so I just trusted it.”

Likening the incident to “something off the Italian Job” onlookers noted wryly: “It’s all well and good trusting your sat nav, but how about trusting your eyes and when there’s not a road in front of you, don’t keep driving.”

March 20, 2009

Driving hazards are a bit of a theme this week. Esure’s somewhat idiosyncratic contribution to the debate is the claim that historic monuments are a major threat to road safety.

Esure claims its research shows that 66 per cent of drivers have been distracted by a famous landmark or monument while at the wheel, with 12 per cent admitting to an accident or near miss as a result of “looking at such objects.”

Top landmarks likely to catch motorists’ eyes were found to be Stonehenge, the Angel of the North and the London Eye.

If the insurer’s findings are to be taken at face value, these monuments should obviously be demolished immediately and urgent action taken to head off the erection of a giant white horse alongside the M25 in Kent.

Steps will also need to be taken to stamp out the threat posed by other top 10 distractions like Wembley Stadium, Hadrian’s Wall and the long man of Wilmington.

Mike Pickard from esure is not suggesting anything quite so radical, however: “Spotting famous landmarks has long been a fun part of road trips, but this can also lead drivers to distraction.” Motorists who wanted to look at such monuments, he said, should pull into a lay-by before using their eyes to look at such objects.

Alternatively, perhaps, giant hoardings could be erected on either side of roads with anything visually interesting alongside them. Motorists with a history of looking at things could be ordered to wear blinkers – or we could all drive in tunnels underground.

March 20, 2009

Using a hands-free mobile phone is more dangerous than drink driving – so claims prog-rock motor insurer yesinsurance.co.uk. A statement issued by the affirmatively named firm demands the law be changed to ban drivers under 20 from using hands-free phones.

The insurer quotes Transport Research Laboratory findings (replicated by similar studies at the University of Utah in the US) suggesting that drivers talking on either hand-held or hands-free mobile phones react 30 per cent slower than those who have been drinking, and 50 per cent slower times than sober drivers.

Figures from the University of Sydney indicate that drivers using hands-free phones are four times more likely to crash than other drivers. Yes claims that most of UK’s 33 million registered drivers now own a mobile, with 24% using them while driving.

Yes man Paul Purdy comments: “Worldwide, road traffic accidents are the leading cause of death among 15-19 year olds. Extending the drink-driving laws to cover all mobile phone usage for younger drivers will help us to reduce this risk.”

March 19, 2009

Between now and the summer Bankstone news will be profiling some of the locations we’ll be calling at on our monkey-bike-back charity fundraising marathon this year (see previous news stories for details). First up: the Piece Hall, Halifax.

Halifax’s Piece Hall has featured as a location in many films over the years, including Room at the Top (1959), The Dresser (1983), Rita, Sue and Bob Too (1986), and 1996’s Brassed Off, a scene from which we will be (very approximately) reproducing on monkey bikes this summer. Props should be no problem as Bankstone boss Dickon Tysoe is handy with a horn himself.

Brassed Off is an elegiac a black comedy written and directed by Mark Herman and starring Ewan MacGregor, Tara Fitzgerald, Stephen Tompkinson and the majestic Pete Postlethwaite. The film ‚ a surprise hit for Channel 4 films along with fellow Yorkshire flick The Full Monty ‚ presents a fictionalised version of the story of the Grimethorpe Colliery Band and the community around it.

Rechristened Grimley in the film, the place once identified as Britain’s poorest village provides many of the locations for the film. Halifax’s vast Georgian Piece Hall ‚ where weavers once brought their work for sale ‚ provides the setting for the semi-finals of a national brass band competition.

As the cast mime to the real Grimethorpe Colliery Band’s rendition of the Fucik’s Florentiner March (always one to spell with care), shots of the bandstand and Piece Hall colonnades are inter-cut with scenes of the miners collapsing resistance to Heseltine’s programme of pit closures under the Major government, of repossession, redundancy and domestic despair.

Despite some fairly shocking Yorkshire accents, the film was well received by the people whose story it reflects. It offers a poignant evocation of a community accepting its fate with tragic fatalism, its will already sapped by the 1984 miners strike.

It ends by sounding a note of bitter dignity and pride when Pete Postlethwaite’s band leader rejects the competition winner’s trophy at the Albert Hall, insisting that people matter more than music and that the government has systematically destroyed their industry, their communities, their homes, their lives for a few lousy bob.

March 18, 2009

A new High Court ruling suggests that in future credit hire firms (CHOs) will need to ensure claimant drivers sign paperwork before being provided with a vehicle ‚ where previously documents might not be sent out until weeks or months after the hire period.

His Honour Judge Worster last month upheld a decision by Birmingham County Court in the case of Company Call Centre v Sheehan [2009], which found that credit hire charges of £4,250 for a BMW Z4 over 15 days sought by accident management company Helphire were unenforceable because paperwork was not signed until long after the hire period ended.

The insurers, Sheehan, had claimed that the costs were unreasonably high and had not been made clear in advance. The judges agree, suggesting CHOs will need to provide greater clarity upfront about hire charges and paperwork in future.

March 18, 2009

Moral degeneracy continues to abound. According to new research carried out for comparison site moneysupermarket.com, one in five UK motorists has broken the law by driving uninsured. Half of those questioned admitted only to driving someone else’s vehicle without proper cover, while one in ten said they had driven their own vehicle uninsured.

So who exactly are these bad apples who are spoiling it for everyone else? Men, it seems, are almost twice as likely to drive uninsured as women ‚ young men in particular. Forty two per cent of those in their twenties fessed up, compared with a mere 7% of sexagenarians. Motorists in London and the Southwest emerge as the most likely to offend or at least to confess.

Moneysupermarket insurance director Andy Leadbetter detects a worrying trend: “This year’s results reveal a worrying trend,” he says. “In 2008 we found 15 per cent of motorists admitting to the offence. So 2009 has seen an unfortunate increase.”

“Driving without insurance,” he warns, “no matter how far the distance, is against the law. Anyone caught doing so could face hefty penalties which include a £200 on-the-spot fine and six points on their licence. There’s also the possibility of the car being impounded – involving a £150 collection charge and £20 per day charged for storage. If Brits are forgoing their motor insurance for cost reasons it clearly is a false economy.”

So busy times ahead for ULR, then.

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