21st June 2019
A recent commercial property fraud industry debrief by the industry City of London Police Insurance Fraud Enforcement Department (IFED) gave investigators Andy Ingle and Nicola Fallowfield-Smith (both of Hawkins' Reigate Office) the opportunity to speak on some of the ways that Hawkins can assist insurers, loss adjusters and solicitors investigating fraudulent escape of water claims.
IFED organised and hosted the debrief, following the conclusion of an investigation into a large-scale commercial property insurance fraud, which resulted in the prosecution and conviction of key members of an organised gang who had staged a number of escapes of water. The debrief took place in the basement level of the Steelhouse Lane Lock-Up, which interested our investigators (and the other speakers and delegates), and gave plenty of access to the cells that once housed the likes of killer Fred West and the Peaky Blinders.
Hawkins were invited to speak at the debrief following an investigation that Andy had conducted on behalf of a well-known household insurer and IFED. This investigation had formed part of a wider IFED investigation of a conspiracy between one of the insurer’s in-house loss adjusters and one of their policyholders, and it led to the successful prosecution and conviction of both parties involved.
During his presentation, Andy outlined his investigations to establish whether or not damage, which was alleged to have been caused to the policyholder’s home by both an escape of water claim and a separate storm damage claim, had actually occurred; he also looked to determine whether or not repairs had been carried out inside the property. As a result of his investigations, Andy was able to show that not only that the alleged damage had not occurred, but also that the repairs, which the insurer’s in-house loss adjuster had first scheduled, had (in all probability) not been carried out. Andy was also able to show that a key document relating to repairs associated with the storm damage claim did not relate to the policyholder’s home, but in fact, in all probability, had been manufactured.
During her presentation, Nicola outlined: the common types of plumbing failures associated with escapes of water; the signs and symptoms of these types of failures; the characteristic features that such failures leave; and how those signs can be analysed to determine why (or how) the failure occurred.
Nicola’s presentation also included a rather tasty lesson, which was demonstrated by using Mars bars, rather than pipework.
As part of “The Mars Bar Experiment” delegates were asked to snap, pull-apart or bite a Mars bar and note the appearance of the resultant “fracture surfaces”. Nicola then explained how the appearance of the different Mars bar fracture surfaces could be likened to the characteristic features associated with different types of plumbing failures. The experiment also enabled the delegates (or at least those who hadn’t already eaten one or both halves of their Mars bar) to see that, when the two halves of the Mars bar were pushed back together and pulled apart again, the characteristic features of the original failure could be compromised.
Hawkins advises Insurance companies and loss adjusters handling an escape of water claim to be on the lookout for: tool marks, smooth surfaces, fractures in unusual areas, or lots of jagged cracks on pipework. Unfortunately, we can’t advise anyone to be on the lookout for Mars bars instead.