Fraud travel agent escapes jail over £100k swindle

A UK travel agent who had defrauded scores of customers by offering dream holidays that never materialised, has escaped jail, the Belfast Telegraph has reported.

Kathy Ward, a former air hostess and owner of La Mon Travel in Downpatrick, Northern Ireland, was convicted of swindling more than £100,000, from clients, taking cash for dream holidays that her customers never received. She was handed a two-year prison sentence, suspended for three years.

Ward, from Tollymore Brae in Newcastle, Northern Ireland, had until last month denied any wrongdoing, before finally admitting her guilt. The court was told the 40-year-old was suffering from depression and used the money to keep her troubled business afloat. Her lawyers denied claims she was using the money to fund a lavish lifestyle.

Ward finally admitted a total of 80 offences, including fraud, theft and one of forgery. Besides the suspended sentence, Ward has also been banned from being a company director for seven years. Her partner and co-accused, Mark McConkey, also from Tollymore Brae, received a one-year sentence, suspended for two years, after admitting five counts of fraud by false representation and two of theft.

The judge said there had been an intended loss of over £100,000, but the actual loss was about £29,000. He ordered that the nearly £30,000 lodged with the court as restitution, should be divided between her victims.

The money lodged with the court would ensure that all victims recovered their money, Ward’s lawyer said. More than 20 of Ward’s clients were present at Downpatrick Courthouse for sentencing.

Judge Stephen Fowler QC told Ward: ‘Your offending showed a degree of planning and methodology. You breached the trust of your customers in your capacity as a travel agent.

‘There were multiple victims over a significant period of time in which you, Ward, were the prime mover.’

Ward was first charged in December 2010, following a fraud investigation in September 2009.