Debtor’s False Sob Story Lands Him in Prison for Contempt of Court


Witnesses who deliberately give false evidence in legal proceedings are very likely to be found out and severely punished. A debtor who swore that his mother-in-law had died when she was, in fact, still numbered amongst the living found that out when his false sob story earned him a substantial prison sentence.

The debtor was alleged to have misapplied and misappropriated large sums from a company of which he was a de facto director. The company’s liquidators obtained summary judgment against him for a sum approaching £28 million. Asset freezing orders were issued against him and he was required to deliver up his passport and those of members of his immediate family so that he could not leave the UK.

In subsequently applying for the return of the passports on compassionate grounds, he made sworn statements, both in writing and orally in court, that his wife’s mother had died overseas and that he and his family were anxious to attend her funeral and see to her burial. After his story unravelled and it emerged that his mother-in-law was alive when he made the statements, the liquidators sought his committal to prison for contempt of court.

Ruling on the matter, the High Court found him a thoroughly dishonest witness who had been caught out in a falsehood. He had no honest belief in the truth of his statements concerning his mother-in-law’s purported death and intended them to interfere with the course of justice. He had also deliberately failed to disclose certain assets and substantial payments that had been made by him, or at his direction, to an overseas recipient.

Sentencing him to 18 months’ imprisonment, the Court found that his culpability was at the higher end of the scale. One of his sworn statements, at least, amounted to a planned deception. His scheme was not particularly sophisticated but he persisted in it for his own personal gain. His clear objective was to regain the passports so that he could abscond to a foreign country where he had undisclosed assets.

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