09:42, October 13 368 0 theguardian.com

2017-10-13 09:42:03
Couple who faked holiday sickness claims are jailed

A couple have been jailed for making fake holiday sickness claims in a landmark case.

Deborah Briton and her partner Paul Roberts tried to claim compensation by stating they and their two children had fallen ill on holidays to Mallorca in 2015 and 2016, Liverpool crown court was told.

But the couple’s social media showed posts in which they boasted of holidays full of “sun, laughter and fun”.

Briton, 53, sobbed as she was sentenced to nine months in prison after admitting four counts of fraud in the private prosecution, brought by the holiday company Thomas Cook.

Roberts, 43, who was sentenced to 15 months after admitting the same offences, cried in the court throughout the hearing on Friday.

Family members, including Briton’s daughter Charlene, who had initially been charged with two counts of fraud which were later dropped, shouted as the couple were sent down.

The court heard that the pair, from Wallasey, Wirral, tried to claim nearly £20,000 for the fake gastric illnesses and would have also cost the holiday firm a further £28,000 in legal expenses had their claims been successful.

Judge David Aubrey QC said their claims had been a “complete and utter sham”.

“They were bogus from start to finish, you were both asserting on your behalfs and on behalf of your two children that on two separate holidays you had suffered illness. They were totally and utterly fake,” said Aubrey.

He said the claims, made in August last year, must have required planning and premeditation. He said: “Why? Pure greed. Seeking to get something for nothing.”

Judge Aubrey said there had been an “explosion” in gastric illness claims made by holidaymakers from the UK.

He said: “Those who may be tempted in the future to make a dishonest claim in relation to fake holiday sickness, if they are investigated and brought to justice, whatever the circumstances of an individual, he or she must expect to receive an immediate custodial sentence.”

Sam Brown, prosecuting, said the couple had holidayed at the Globales America hotel in Mallorca with their two children for two consecutive years.

After the holiday in June 2015 Briton had written on social media: “Safely home after two weeks of sun, laughter, fun and tears. Met up with all our lovely holiday friends who made our holiday fab.”

A post after returning from the second holiday in July 2016 read: “Back home after a fantastic holiday, my favourite so far. Thanks to our holiday family for being part of it, plenty of holiday memories made to treasure.”

But in August that year they contacted David Norman Solicitors to make the claims. An intimated letter of claim which was read to the court said: “Our client’s holiday was ruined due to their symptoms as they were ill for the entire remainder of the trip. They were unable to enjoy the holiday.”

Brown said: “Both defendants knew that in issuing this claim he or she would be lying in order to support it.”

Briton was later contacted by a travel rep from the hotel who asked about the claims. In a message, the mother-of-four told her the claims were due to “Paul with his dodgy dealings”.

Charles Lander, defending Roberts, said: “It was an idea the defendant formed from speaking to others in a pub. He stupidly believed those others who told him he wouldn’t be detected. How wrong he was.”

He said Roberts, who had no previous convictions, was a “broken man”.

Lloyd Morgan, defending Briton, said: “She recognises the dishonour and disgrace she has brought not only to herself but to family and friends.”

But the court heard when interviewed by the probation service so pre-sentence reports could be prepared the coupleboth said the claims were exaggerated rather than fake.

Brown told the court there had been a 500% rise in the number of claims for damages resulting from holiday sickness in recent years and the industry had introduced a number of measures to tackle the problem.

“One of the measures being the commencement of private prosecutions, of which this is the first,” he said.

Following the hearing, a Thomas Cook spokesman said: “The sentences handed down today demonstrate how serious the issue of fraudulent illness claims has become. This is a particularly sobering case but reflects what is going on across the UK travel industry, so we had to take a stand to protect our holidays and our customers from the minority who cheat the system.”