Seven expert witnesses who fabricated evidence about the cost of replacement hire cars for motorists in road crashes have been handed jail sentences and ordered to pay a total legal bill which could reach some £1.5 million for what a High Court judge in London called in "a very serious perversion of the course of justice".
Mr Justice Supperstone imposed prison sentences ranging from 13 months to six months in what is believed to be the first case of its kind.
The seven all worked for Autofocus Ltd and became caught up in "perjury on an industrial scale", said the judge.
In thousands of cases, Autofocus (no longer trading) provided insurance companies with expert rate surveyors who disputed the daily rate hire car specialists Accident Exchange Ltd could claim for providing replacement vehicles.
The experts are estimated to have saved insurance companies millions of pounds. They were found guilty of contempt for untruthfully stating that they had checked the spot rates for comparable vehicles within a locality and that the Accident Exchange charges were inflated and excessive.
In six cases, the experts perjured themselves when they gave evidence on oath when disputes went to court, said the judge.
Accident Exchange, which brought a private prosecution for contempt, estimated that 30,000 cases were affected by the defendants signing false statements of truth after making rates reports.
The dishonest actions of Autofocus and the defendants hit the share price of Accident Exchange.
It led to losses in excess of £100 million, with 300 employees being made redundant, said the judge.
The judge said another court had observed in a pre-trial hearing that if the evidence against Autofocus and the seven was correct, the case involved perjury on an industrial scale.
"The evidence that (Autofocus) was involved in the systematic, endemic fabrication of evidence in which the defendants and each of them knowingly and actively participated throughout the material time is overwhelming."
Autofocus expert and team leader Nathan George Broom, from East Anglia, was jailed for 10 months; company director Elaine Carlton Walker, from Gloucester, received 13 months, one week; and team leader Duncan Carl Sadler, from Oxford, was jailed for 12 months.
Four other defendants, referred to as "foot soldiers" received lesser penalties - Andrew Watts, from the Wirral, Liverpool, was jailed for seven months; David James, the Wirral, eight months; Laurence Gray, Oxford, six months, three weeks; and Keel Broom, from Beccles, Suffolk, received six months.
Unlike the other six, although guilty of contempt in making false statements, Keel Broom never perjured himself by lying in court.
The judge referred to submissions by John Rees QC, appearing for Accident Exchange, that - with the exception of company director Elaine Walker - none of those currently before the court were "the main perpetrators of this very serious perversion of the course of justice".
They allegedly were Autofocus chairman Colin McLean, managing director Suzy Forrest and director Paul Wilcox.
They also included Stuart McLean, training officer and brother of Colin McLean.
The judge said the Autofocus bosses were currently involved in proceedings in the Commercial Court, along with three firms of solicitors, and facing claims by Accident Exchange for some £126 million for causing it financial losses between 2005-2010.
But the seven facing jail were "willing participants" in the fabrication of reports.
The judge said: "In this case the evidence against them is absolutely overwhelming and there was no defence from day one."