TWO MEN have appeared in court facing seven charges of fraudulent trading and forgery following the biggest construction insurance scandal in decades.
Paul Newton, 34, and Matthew Walker, 25, appeared at Sheffield Magistrates' Court to hear the charges read out in relation to Doncaster-based insurance broker Preston Whiteside.
Both men are due to reappear at the magistrates' court next month, when the case will be committed to Crown Court.
The charges cover a period between February 2002 and March 2003 and relate to the false provision of employers' and public liability cover.
The Serious Fraud Office and South Yorkshire Police launched an investigation in conjunction with the Police Service of Northern Ireland after up to 1,000 contractors were left without cover.
Newton and Walker are accused of falsely providing liability cover and claiming it was in effect when it wasn't.
Police started their probe following complaints from insurance firm NIG, which became suspicious after policies forwarded by brokers contained discrepancies.
Company details and occupations had been changed to make them appear less of an insurance risk.
The problem first surfaced in Northern Ireland, where 500 firms discovered their employer's liability cover was null and void.
The insurance crisis was so severe in 2003 that the Government was considering stepping in to bale out contractors hit by invalid insurance and potential claims.
One firm hit was County Antrim-based Penrose Roofing, headed by Gordon Penrose, former president of the National Federation of Roofing Contractors.
Mr Penrose was left £37,000 out of pocket when his broker told him his insurance policy was null and void. He said: 'Most insurance companies will not cover construction firms in Northern Ireland, so we were just glad to get the cover.'