The NI travel agent who turned holidays into disasters
Glam businesswoman in hiding as litany of alleged dubious dealings emerges
Scores of angry travellers are demanding to know how a Co Down travel agent was allowed to operate despite having a previous conviction for ripping off her clients.
The Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA) has confirmed to the Belfast Telegraph that it allowed Kathy Ward to join even though they were aware that she was a convicted thief.
The lucrative business enterprise of the glamorous travel agent has started to crumble as police begin a massive fraud investigation following dozens of complaints from clients who have claimed their holidays were never paid for, they were left stranded at airports or had unauthorised money taken from their bank accounts.
As the investigation unfurls, it is thought that hundreds of people were affected by potentially illegal dealings carried out by La Mon Travel Agency in Downpatrick, Co Down, which is owned by convicted thief Kathy Ward.
The Belfast Telegraph has learned that among those recently affected are:
- A honeymoon couple stranded in New York when cruise, flights and hotels were not paid for;
- A family due to go on their first break for 30 years who arrived at Dublin airport to discover their flights to Nice had not been paid for even though the money, as well as an unauthorised £1,300, had been taken out of their credit card account;
- A 21-year-old left stranded at the airport in Atlanta, Georgia in the US when he discovered his flight home hadn’t been paid for;
- A group of up to 22 people left stranded in New York after their Caribbean cruise wasn’t paid for;
- A group of 15 stranded in Barcelona when payments for their Mediterranean cruise had not been forwarded to the cruise operator;
- Three friends who had saved for a gap year in Australia and paid cash for their flights but discovered their flights may not have been booked; and
- A man who had previously booked a holiday with La Mon Travel who was last week informed by his credit card company that over £3,000 had been taken from his account by the travel agency.
- As the full extent of the alleged dubious business dealings at La Mon Travel begin to unravel, Ward, who would often boast to clients about her luxury holidays and expensive tastes in diamonds and designer shoes, has gone into hiding.
A work colleague told the Belfast Telegraph that Ward, who resides in the attractive Tollymore Brae development in Newcastle, Co Down, was not available but that the business was still operating “in the short term”.
“Kathy is not available. I don’t know when she will be back. I am not in a position to talk for the business. There is a lot going on at the minute. I really don’t know what to say. I’m not in a position to talk about the company,” the work colleague said.
When asked if the company was still operating he said: “We are trying to sort people out that are going on holiday in the short term.”
The Belfast Telegraph asked if there were plans to close the business, to which he replied: “I don’t know what to say. I am not in the position to talk for the company.”
There is now confusion for large numbers of holidaymakers who have booked their spring and summer breaks through La Mon Travel. Police officers were called to the travel agency on Monday morning after a number of upset customers arrived demanding reimbursement for flights they had booked but the company had allegedly not forwarded payment for.
La Mon Travel became a member of the Association of British Travel Agents last month, however ABTA last night said that after an investigation it has decided to “immediately terminate the company’s membership.”
The PSNI swooped on the business premises on Friday morning and also carried out searches at Ward’s Newcastle home. Dozens of clients have already been questioned by detectives and it is thought that dozens more have lodged complaints with police in Downpatrick over the past few days.
A PSNI spokesman told the Belfast Telegraph: “CID at Downpatrick are conducting an investigation in relation to a travel agents in Downpatrick.
“We are aware that a number of members of the public have raised issues regarding this business and we would advise that, if you have concerns about a holiday you have booked, then please contact the tour operator and request confirmation of your booking.”
The spokesman added: “If you would like to proceed with a criminal complaint, please report the matter to your local police and provide the following information: your name, your address, your telephone number, your date of birth, a brief description of the allegation and the total amount of outstanding money concerned.
“Police are investigating this matter. However, we would advise members of the public that we can only take a record of your complaint and investigate it. We cannot guarantee any refunds from this business.”