Arrests have been made after early morning raids at a firm believed to be fraudulently selling religious pilgrimages to British Muslims.

Fraud squad and trading standards officers were seen removing boxes of documents from a travel agency in Ashton-under-Lyne in Tameside, Greater Manchester as well as posters and other material.

It is alleged the firm in question had been falsely advertising packages for the Hajj and Umrah pilgrimages to Mecca in Saudi Arabia as being protected by Atol.

The Manchester Evening News was present as the premises of a travel agency were searched.

Police arrested two men aged 55 and a 54-year-old woman on suspicion of fraud from two houses in the town.

Hajj is the annual pilgrimage to Mecca which takes place in October with 25,000 Britons making the journey and is a requirement for every Muslim make the trip at least once in their lifetime.

The raids followed months of observation and a number of complaints from customers about claims on the company’s website.

Det Sgt Kevin Ives, who led the operation, told the newspaper: “Today’s warrant is part of a much larger operation to prevent people falling victim to Hajj and Umrah fraud.

“Fraudsters across the country are known to be selling fraudulent travel packages to Muslims who are often making a once in a life time pilgrimage to Mecca.”

Mohammed Tariq, from Birmingham Trading Standards, said: “If the company goes bust, or they go abroad and there is no hotel or flights have been cancelled, they have no protection whatsoever.

“That’s why the Atol licence is in place to protect the consumer.”