A court has heard how a travel agent specialising in Christian-themed holidays defrauded customers who booked a ‘Bible Lands Cruise’.
Bob Fleming, 62, is alleged to have ploughed the money into a Turkish hotel and then encouraged customers to extend their holidays to include a stay at the hotel instead of using booking fees to secure berths on the Thomson Spirit.
Fleming, the boss of Living Sun Holidays, of New Malden, denies two counts of fraudulent trading and two counts of engaging in misleading commercial practice and failing to provide evidence of a security, the London Evening Standard reported.
Prosecutor Richard Hallam told the jury at Kingston crown court: “Mr Fleming was a travel agent and tour operator, who for 30 years arranged holidays in the UK and abroad. His specialism was Christian holidays.”
He said Fleming advertised a 10-day Mediterranean cruise starting in Turkey with the trip being led by biblical experts including Fleming himself.
However, customers started asking for refunds when the itinerary was changed because of trouble in the Gaza Strip and trading standards officers later traced 15 customers who had paid Fleming a total of £26,000.
Hallam said: “They thought they were securing a berth on a cruise ship. He should have paid for the cruise with that £26,000, but he didn’t.
“It was channelled to his other business, a hotel he had leased in Turkey and he asked his customers to stay in that hotel. He used the money to renovate that hotel. It is dishonest.
“Refunds were chased, but there had been no protection in place in the eyes of the law and he had lied that flights were Atol-covered.
“Mr Fleming never paid or confirmed the bookings with Thomson. He had to invent reasons why there were delays in refunds.
“He had no right whatsoever to plough the money into the hotel in Turkey and, quite incredibly, some customers were invited to loan money to the hotel. He misused and lost their money in the business venture and had to fabricate why he had to cancel a cruise he had never booked.
“Two weeks before the cruise, Mr Fleming purported to cancel the cruise on the basis of an unsatisfactory itinerary. The cruise went ahead.”
When questioned by trading standards officers, Fleming eventually conceded that he “screwed up”.
“It all started to unravel,” he said. “Money just vanishes.”
The prosecution accept Fleming eventually took care of customers. “Refunds were made to some people many months later,” said Mr Hallam.
Fleming told the court: “There are no debts, no one’s owed any money. I don’t believe I am guilty of an offence.”
The case continues.
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