A couple have been jailed today in the first ever prosecution to be brought against fraudulent claimants seeking compensation for all-inclusive holiday sickness.
Deborah Briton and Paul Roberts sought compensation of up to £20,000 following two holidays to Mallorca in 2015 and 2016 during which they claimed to have been ill. They also claimed their two children suffered from gastric illnesses.
Ms Briton was sentenced to nine months in prison as she admitted four counts of fraud, whilst Mr Roberts was sentenced to 15 months after admitting the same offence.
At the hearing in Liverpool Crown Court, Judge David Aubrey QC said both claims had been a “complete and utter sham… They were totally and utterly fake.” He said the couple were “seeking to get something for nothing” and that “those tempted to make a fake claim, whatever their circumstances, he or she must expect to receive an immediate custodial sentence.”
Social media content showed the pair enjoying their holiday with Ms Briton writing “Safely home after two weeks of sun, laughter, fun…” However, following their holidays, the pair contacted David Norman Solicitors to bring the claims on their behalf. In a letter of claim, it 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.”
Sarah Hill, head of fraud and partner at BLM, brought the private criminal prosecution on behalf of Thomas Cook against both defendants:
“Today’s sentencing sends a welcome and important message to anyone thinking of bringing a fraudulent all-inclusive holiday sickness claim. It also demonstrates that judges aren’t afraid to issue immediate custodial sentences for those acting dishonestly. The epidemic of fraudulent travel sickness claims demonstrates that fraud does evolve, from whiplash to PPI and now to holiday sickness claims. Much like a water mattress, you shift pressure from one zone in fraud and it just springs up in another space – constant vigilance is needed against these changing threats.
“Fraud of this nature has so far proven to be a uniquely British problem, and is often a case of cowboy claim companies misleading otherwise honest holiday-makers into believing they could earn thousands through a legal loop-hole. There’s a dearth of consumer awareness in this space - it’s rare that claims pay out in the thousands and fake illness claims are also very much illegal - as we have seen today.”
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.”
BLM commissioned YouGov to survey 2,000 GB consumers in December 2016 on their attitudes to sickness claims on all-inclusive holidays, after the firm saw claims against its in travel customers soar over the past 12 months. A the time, 46% of those questioned thought it would be acceptable to make a claim for food poisoning even if they weren’t sure their illness was the fault of the hotel, a belief that has helped create a thriving fraud culture, according to BLM.