A serving Burnley councillor could face criminal charges after a civil court judge ruled he tried to defraud an insurance company.
Coun. Derek Dawson, the British National Party councillor for Gannow, made a claim against Zurich Insurance which would have initially been worth up to £30,000. The claim related to an accident in 2003 at Zurich customer Mr Stephen Hargreaves' house in Whalley, where it was alleged Coun. Dawson's severely fractured ankle was caused by a ladder being knocked onto his leg by a car driven by Mr Hargreaves.
As it was a civil trial no punishment was handed down by the court, but Zurich was granted permission to pursue Dawson and Hargreaves for Contempt of Court proceedings through the Attorney General. If successful, this will attract a criminal penalty.
But Burnley's BNP leader Coun. Sharon Wilkinson defended Coun. Dawson, calling him "an excellent councillor" and even questioned whether the judge was influenced by Dawson's "political persuasion".
During the case, which began last year before starting again this month, Deputy Circuit Judge John Morgan heard evidence at Burnley County Court, which proved the fracture was caused by Dawson falling off a ladder rather than Hargreaves' car knocking the ladder onto him.
Coun. Wilkinson said: "At the start of the case, the judge was made aware Derek was a BNP councillor. He then chose to believe the evidence of Zurich's expert engineer and not Derek's expert engineer as to how his injuries were caused. Whether the judge was influenced by Derek's political persuasion we can only speculate. Derek is an excellent councillor and I don't think this will affect his position."
But Burnley Council leader, Coun. Gordon Birtwistle called for Coun. Dawson's resignation saying: "Any councillor that attempts to commit fraud is not a fit and proper person to be a councillor."
Mr Stephen Langton, representing Hargreaves, appealed against the judge's decision, which was not granted. Mr Langton and Mr James Hurd, representing Dawson, also appealed against the imposition of court costs, but again the judge found in favour of Zurich. The costs, which are expected to run into tens of thousands of pounds, will be decided later.
Mr Simon McCann, representing Zurich, argued: "Dawson and Hargreaves colluded together to defraud Zurich. Fraudsters should not benefit."
Mr Scott Clayton, claims fraud and investigations manager for Zurich, said: "Fraud is something we take very seriously as this case shows. Unfortunately, some people will go to great lengths to secure financial gain. We challenge fraud because the costs in challenging these cases are spiralling at the expense of the honest customer."