Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 25 December 2014

New blow for customers of fraud probe travel firm

Kathy Ward
Kathy Ward, proprietor of La Mon Travel in Downpatrick, presents a sponsorship cheque towards the forthcoming East Down GAA Awards presentations to Matt Fitzpatrick (treasurer) and Martin Fitzsimons (chairman).

The travel association ABTA has agreed to settle 24 claims from holidaymakers caught up in an alleged travel agency fraud which left over 100 families, groups of friends and loan travellers without holidays, stranded at airports or having unauthorised money taken from their bank accounts.

It is thought, however, that around 75% of those affected by the alleged illegal dealings within La Mon Travel Agency in Downpatrick, Co Down, will not get their money back as they had booked before the business was covered by ABTA.

Detectives are continuing their investigations into the travel agency which is owned by glamorous convicted thief Kathy Ward. So far they have taken statements from alleged victims in more than 100 separate cases.

La Mon Travel only joined ABTA two weeks before police raided the business following complaints from a number of clients who claimed their holidays had never been booked or unauthorised transactions had been made on their bank or credit card accounts.

Among those affected were Downpatrick couple Stephen and Caroline Armstrong, who were due to go to Orlando with their two children but discovered their holiday had not been booked; Crossgar woman Pauline McAteer and her two daughters who arrived in Tenerife to discover their hotel and flights home had not been paid; a honeymoon couple stranded in New York when their cruise, flights and hotels were not paid for, and a group of 15 left stranded in Barcelona when payments for their Mediterranean cruise had not been forwarded to the cruise operator.

ABTA said that it is currently dealing with two-dozen claims from clients who booked their holidays through La Mon Travel during the period the business was a member of the travel association. An ABTA spokesman said that these two dozen cases will “have their bookings honoured”.

ABTA has come under serious criticism for allowing La Mon Travel to join the association even though its was aware that the owner was a convicted thief.

In November 2007 Ward pleaded guilty at Downpatrick Crown Court to 14 counts of false accounting and theft between 2005 and 2006. The charges related to

more than £2,000 and the offences were carried out while she worked as a manager at Downe Travel in Downpatrick.

Earlier this week ABTA chief executive Mark Tanzer issued a letter saying that this case has had a “very negative effect on other trustworthy agents, and to make sure that the good name of ABTA will not be undone by this one bad example”.

“This story has been particularly upsetting to us, as ABTA has a number of systems in place to ensure members work to very high professional standards.

“All applicants to ABTA membership have to fulfil a variety of criteria and in the case of La Mon Travel, they fulfiled those criteria. We are very disappointed that in this instance we had to terminate membership following evidence of malpractice. We acted as soon as alerted to the issue and terminated La Mon’s membership on February 9, 2010, just two weeks after the company had joined.”

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