By: 11 April 2024
Inside the courtroom: Aaron Pulford’s fight against Tesco fraud ring

Claims Media previously reported on Keoghs’ legal battle with a fraud ring involving a well known retailer. Now that Tesco has been compensated, Claims Media sat down with the barrister who fought the fraud ring in court.

Aaron Pulford is a practicing barrister with Cobden House Chambers. He has gained recognition for his work in combatting a notable motor fraud ring working against Tesco. He has played a crucial role in securing exemplary damages for Tesco against 28 individuals involved in fraudulent claims. Pulford’s efforts have resulted in substantial recoveries for the retailer, exceeding £1,800,000 in damages and costs.  


Aaron, could you give us an introduction to yourself and your career so far? 

I am a practicing barrister. I started out as a paralegal working at a law firm in Manchester. After years working in court environments, in 2019, I took the step to become a self-employed barrister. This was when I joined Cobden House Chambers. I’ve enjoyed the work I’ve done enormously. Great people have sent me so many interesting cases and I’ve loved it.  


What were some of the key strategies that you relied on in building this case? 

Initially I was presented with a lot of crashes that looked genuine. It was only when they were put together and looked at through the prism of what was happening in each crash, and what happened afterwards, that it became clearer there was something at play. 

Once we were satisfied that there was enough evidence to pursue the counter-fraud action, I was asked to come up with a strategy.  My number one goal was to dismantle the fraud ring that was targeting Tesco.  

The strategy I decided to use was to put all the cases together. However, a lot of these cases were at different points in the journey. So, the first key strategy was to bring all the cases back to the starting point procedurally. We applied and put all 13 actions alongside each other and ran them from the start to the end. This might sound simple, but in 13 cases we had to go to court 13 times and say, ‘I know this case is up to this point and this work has been done so far, but we think there is something untoward happening and we would like to start again.’ 


“My number one goal was to dismantle the fraud ring that was targeting Tesco.” 


What did you find were the most significant challenges that you faced in handling such a complex and high-profile case? 

One of the biggest challenges was the profile, but it was important that this case was dealt with on its merits. The last thing anyone on our team wanted was for this to be tried outside of court in the public eye.  

Another challenge was pulling everybody into line. There were a lot of very talented lawyers acting for people who brought claims, who were resisting what I describe as the ‘alignment process’. A lot of those lawyers were pushing back and saying that we hadn’t proved that it was fraudulent, and until we did, their client was innocent.  


“The last thing anyone on our team wanted was for this to be tried outside of court in the public eye.” 


The next challenge was deciding what to put in the group of 13 cases that were tried, and what not to, because there were over 100 of these incidents. We decided that the best strategy was to be reactive. The legal team wrote to every claimant, setting out in full the fraud concerns in their case and making clear if they issued their claim, they would have to face the allegations of deceit and conspiracy. As a result, many claimants did not formally bring their claims. Those that did issue their claims were added to the fraud ring. 

Once all the claims were aligned, it was important to enable all parties to fairly see all the documents from each of the claims to ensure they could see the evidence against them. This also enabled the court to see the bigger picture of the conspiracies and the recurrent features. To do this I came up with an approach which I called the ‘SharePoint strategy’. This was strenuously opposed by those we alleged were perpetrating fraud, with their lawyers arguing, ‘it’s just our case with Tesco and Tesco’s case with us, so no other case’s documents are relevant’. 


Why did everyone need to see each other’s documents? 

In a selection of the cases, there was damage to the exact same part of the roof rail. Most of these crashes were to the side of the vehicle, and it was inexplicable that the roof rail could be damaged. We had an engineer look at each car and they concluded that the roof rail of these cars could not impact the back of the Tesco van. So, we were looking at one of the hallmarks of how these crashes were staged, and this was a recurrent piece of damage. But you can only see and understand that if you can see the evidence of the other vehicles that experienced the same damage.  It is only when a judge could see those hall marks in different cases that the commonalities became clear. 


“This investigation goes further into their wrongdoing and their consequences may not just be financial.” 



How did you navigate the potential risk to the public posed by the company vehicles being used in the accidents as well as the concern of the publicity leading to any copycat fraud? 

Tesco’s priority, and therefore our priority, was to protect the public. Whilst these accidents were being staged by people working together, there was a possibility that someone innocent could be caught up in the crash by mistake. As soon as this was highlighted, Tesco carried out a huge sweep across its various depots and began checking footage. Tesco also implemented a new camera system. Then, the drivers themselves were subjected to interviews.  

The court has now ordered that everyone involved in staging fraudulent accidents is to be referred to the office of the attorney general. The attorney general is going to be asked to consider whether those involved should be committed for contempt of court, or potentially subjected to criminal proceedings. This investigation goes further into their wrongdoing and their consequences may not just be financial.  



What can we learn from this case?

In this landmark case against Tesco fraudsters, crucial lessons can be learned by insurance professionals grappling with fraudulent claims. As well as taking careful procedural steps to align the cases and run them together, the innovative ‘SharePoint strategy,’ enabled Tesco to carry out data analysis and utilise information-sharing platforms.

Doing this can enable insurance professionals to uncover fraudulent patterns effectively and, just as importantly, can run cases so that all parties can see the evidence. This also enables the court to understand the larger picture of a conspiracy across 32 separate cases.

Establishing robust internal controls and compliance mechanisms, akin to the consolidation of cases, is vital in deterring fraudulent behaviour. This case with Tesco can serve as a beacon, guiding insurance professionals in fortifying their fraud prevention and detection strategies for a more resilient insurance landscape.


Image: Provided by Cobden House Chambers.
Emma Cockings
Emma is a content editor for Claims Media. Emma is a experienced writer with a background in client-centric personal injury for a major firm. She has attended and reported on multiple brokerage events throughout her career.