Natimuk's Nicole Jane Sunderland faces court for false insurance claims

A NATIMUK woman is facing jail time after making two fraudulent insurance claims and receiving more than $50,000 compensation. 

Nicole Jane Sunderland, 48, appeared in Horsham Magistrate’s Court on Monday, where she pleaded guilty to obtaining a financial advantage by deception. 

The court heard that Sunderland had made two false insurance claims to RACV since 2015.

Police prosecutor Senior Constable Matt Haughton said Sunderland owned a house in Natimuk, which had been in a constant, poor state of repair since 2000.

Sunderland moved to Frankston in 2006 and hasn’t been back to Natimuk since. 

In that time she rented out her house, which remained in a dilapidated state.

Senior Constable Haughton said in early 2016, Sunderland contacted Horsham police and reported the house had been broken into.

She reported a large list of items had been stolen, including a dining table, chairs, beds, a lounge suite, television, coffee machine, washing machine, vacuum cleaner, candles and cutlery.

Senior Constable Haughton said Sunderland reported 85 items had been stolen, which she valued at $37,000.

In July 2016, Sunderland made an insurance claim to the RACV about the stolen items, originally saying the items were valued at $50,000.

“Police noted that all the items listed were of good quality, which was not consistent with the dilapidated state of the house,” Senior Constable Haughton said.

“Witnesses also confirmed Sunderland had not been in Natimuk for more than 10 years and a former tenant said there were no items in the house that were valuable.”

RACV then investigated the claim and found Sunderland had made a previous insurance claim after a shed fire on her Natimuk property in 2011.

“The fire happened on September 3, 2011 and it wasn’t until 2015 that Sunderland supplied a list of items that were in the shed to the RACV,” Senior Constable Haughton said.

Sunderland listed 370 items that were damage in the fire, which she valued at $99,559.

Senior Constable Haughton said items included expensive tools and cameras, along with sporting, horse and climbing equipment.

He said the shed was about three-metres by four-metres – about the size of a single car garage.

He said RACV paid Sunderland $57,007 as compensation for the items.

In August 2016, RACV interviewed Sunderland, who said items stolen from her house included a 55-inch television that she bought from The Good Guys in Frankston and a $2300 coffee machine that she bought from Harvey Norman in Horsham.

Police inquiries with the stores showed there was no record of the purchases.

Sunderland was arrested and in a police interview, she admitted to purposely inflating the list of items damaged in the shed fire.

She said she used catalogues to create the lists. 

Senior Constable Haughton said Sunderland admitted to more than $38,000 worth of fraudulent items, but police believed the value was likely to be higher.

He said jail time was the appropriate sentence.

“There has been two insurance claims in a matter of a few years and there needs to be deterrence from this type of behaviour,” he said.

“Imprisonment is in definite range and all measures should be taken to ensure that is the appropriate sentence.”

Defence solicitor Nick Graham said Sunderland was living in Natimuk again.

He said she had struggled with mental illness and had been diagnosed with bi-polar. 

Mr Graham said Sunderland also sent a text message to an RACV investigator to say she wanted to withdraw the claim on the stolen items from her house.

Magistrate Mark Stratmann said Sunderland’s offending was serious.

“A significant amount of money has been taken dishonestly and the community suffers when people actively misappropriate money through insurance companies,” he said.

“In small communities, this is even more serious.”

Mr Stratmann said Sunderland was at risk of imprisonment.

He called for more information about Sunderland’s mental state.

“There is clearly a diagnoses, but there needs to be more information on the relationship between the condition and this kind of behaviour,” he said.

Sunderland will re-appear in court on April 11 for sentencing.