Injury scam footballer spared jail

Semi-pro footballer Gary Burnett outside the High Court in London
Semi-pro footballer Gary Burnett outside the High Court in London

A semi-pro Wigan footballer whose insurance scam was found out when he bragged about scoring a goal on Twitter has been spared jail.

Gary Burnett, 25, claimed he was so badly injured in a car accident at a McDonald’s drive-through that he could not play for his club, Northwich Victoria, for weeks.

It’s all gone pear-shaped for Mr Burnett because he didn’t think for one moment that he was vulnerable

Judge Mr Justice Jay

But in fact, the window cleaner was back playing the following day and soon afterwards tweeting about a goal he had scored in the FA Trophy.

The Lowton dad-of-one’s attempted fraud was rumbled when insurance investigators spotted his tweets and he withdrew his claim.

He was ordered to pay £11,000 court costs last year - and was handed a suspended jail term for contempt of court by Mr Justice Jay at the High Court.

The judge said the sentence was a warning to those considering fraudulent accident claims and he had “only just” decided to suspend Burnett’s sentence.

“It’s all gone pear-shaped for Mr Burnett because he didn’t think for one moment that he was vulnerable,” said the judge.

The court heard Burnett had been involved in a minor shunt at a McDonald’s in Birkenhead in October 2013.

He later claimed he had not planned to make a bogus claim, but “someone” had suggested he might be able to get a pay-out. He told a doctor he had suffered a neck injury, which prevented him making himself available for his team for four weeks.

He said he had tried playing once but had to be substituted because of his pain.

But his lies began to unravel when insurer Aviva investigated his claims and found the references on social media.

He was challenged and withdrew his claim, admitting he had made a “foolish judgment call.”

A judge at Wigan County Court last year ruled his claim was “fundamentally dishonest” and ordered he pay the insurer’s £11,000 costs at a rate of £63-a-month.

Yesterday, the solicitor general Robert Buckland QC applied for Burnett’s committal to prison for contempt of court.

Representing Mr Buckland, barrister Louis Mably said actions like Burnett’s “strike at the heart of the justice system” and a deterrent sentence was necessary.

Mr Burnett accepted he was in contempt, but his barrister Trevor Parry-Jones said the footballer was a “naive” young man who relied heavily on his parents.

The former Wigan Athletic youth player had not planned a staged accident, but merely exaggerated an injury, “gilding the lily,” for which he was remorseful.

He earns only a “modest” salary and pays maintenance to an ex-partner, with whom he has a two-and-a-half year old son.

“Overall, the effect on him is great,” he said. “He is not going to fall foul again. He knows what the consequences are. He has been utterly foolish.”

Jailing him for four months but suspending the term for a year, Mr Justice Jay said he was impressed with Burnett’s “frank and contrite” attitude to what he had done.

He added: “Mr Burnett and the public need to understand that this court takes a very serious view of this type of offending. It is inherently corrosive and damaging.”

Burnett was accompanied by his parents, who were said to be “appalled” by his actions. His father wiped away tears as Mr Justice Jay suspended the sentence.

Burnett was ordered to pay £500 towards the solicitor general’s costs, at a rate of £10 a month. The judge said the “brazen fraud” had left Burnett facing costs which would take him about 20 years to pay off.