Martial Arts centre not properly insured but couple avoid jail

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A couple who fraudulently claimed at least £17,000 after lying to parents that the Tiger Martial Arts Academy they ran was properly insured, have narrowly avoided jail.

Cash-strapped Jenifer Duncan and Joanne Fuller failed to ensure that the community centre in Aylesbury from where they ran classes, had the proper indemnity insurance needed in case any of the children left in their care had an accident.

A court heard the pair had told parents whose children attended classes appropriate insurance was in place.

They further lied on leaflets and flyers advertising classes, by stating all staff had undergone full criminal records background checks, when none of them had been assessed.

Andrew Kendall, prosecuting, told Amersham Crown Court the majority of parents would have refused to send their children to the classes had they known no insurance or CRB checks were in place.

He said the lowest amount the pair would have falsely claimed due to their lies was £17,388, based on the smallest average class size and the lowest total they charged to parents.

Mr Kendall added however that, based on the highest average class sizes and the largest amounts Duncan and Fuller charged to parents, the figure could be as high as £48,438. He told the court: “The prosecution can’t put a specific figure on it.”

He said no insurance was in place at the community centre for over a year after the previous policy expired. Fuller, aged 50 years, taught some of the classes while wheelchair-bound Duncan, aged 41 years, was involved in the administration of the company, Tiger Martial Arts.

Mr Kendall told the court: “Over a period of around one year, both defendants falsely represented to the local authority and parents of children who attended their classes they had a policy of indemnity insurance to cover injuries that may occur during classes.

“Over two years they said all instructors had the relevant checks from the criminal records bureau. These representations were repeated to many parents. The CRB representations were included in the leaflets and adverts for the classes. They were both false and dishonest.

“Initially the couple had appropriate insurance. It is apparent that that insurance expired and they then provided a document saying they were covered. The local authority contacted the provider, who said the document had been forged.”

After trading standards officers became involved, the pair were prosecuted and they admitted three counts of fraud by false representation.

The couple still run the club and Steven Garrett, defending, said: “Some of the parents were quite happy to allow their children to continue attending the classes after the insurance was renewed.

“It is almost impossible to put a financial figure on this - once you take into consideration the various expenses, it’s an artificial figure. The figures are hypothetical.”

He added the leaflets that falsely alluded to instructors having received CRB checks came from a parent franchise company the couple had bought the lease from and they continued to use the flyers they had been given. Mr Garrett said there was “no legal requirement” for instructors to undergo the checks, although there is also no suggestion any of the instructors failed a test.

Mr Garrett said: “They have had significant financial difficulties in the past, which probably contributed to the commission of these offences.”

Judge John Cole told the pair: “I am sure the lion’s share of parents wouldn’t have allowed their children to join the class and pay had they known there was no insurance and instructors hadn’t been CRB checked. The result of these offences is children were put in your care doing a contact activity on the false representation there was insurance when there was not.

“This is a very dangerous thing to do. It’s not only dishonest, had one of those children had an accident in those classes they would have been uninsured.

“I take the view these offences were caused by chaotically bad administration. You started out legitimately insured but you let it lapse.

“I have just about been persuaded that a custodial sentence can be suspended, but believe me it’s been by a very narrow margin.”

Duncan and Fuller both had their nine month prison sentences suspended for 24 months. Both will also undergo supervision for 12 months and were ordered to pay £1,000 each in prosecution costs.

Fuller must also undergo 250 hours of unpaid work, while Duncan will be subject to a curfew order for three months.