Fake claimants face jail

A family from Wallasey on Merseyside could face prison this month, after being charged with fraudulently claiming £52,000 for false food poisoning claims after a holiday in Mallorca.

Paul Roberts, his partner Deborah Briton and her daughter Charlene Briton, were charged with six separate charges of fraud relating to claims they had made about suffering illnesses while on an all-inclusive holiday in Mallorca. The claims were made against tour operator Thomas Cook, which referred the case to the public prosecutor.

This is the first time one of the “fake food poisoning” cases, which have recently plagued tour operators and the Spanish hotel industry, has ended up in a criminal court. The judgement could create a strong precedent for similar instances of fraud in the future.

A Thomas Cook spokesman said: “It’s important we send a clear message that submitting a false holiday claim is a criminal act. If left unchecked, this issue threatens holidays for all of our customers in the UK. We urge anyone who’s concerned they may have wrongly submitted a claim for illness when on holiday to withdraw it immediately.”

Last month, Thomas Cook also successfully defended a civil claim for £10,000 made by Julie Lavelle and her partner Michael McIntyre after a court found them to be ‘fundamentally dishonest’. The couple had claimed £10,000 compensation for supposed illnesses suffered during a 2013 holiday in Gran Canaria, although they had reported no illness at the time.

The recent flood of claims from British holidaymakers results from British consumer laws which do not require claimants to provide evidence of illness. Tour operators, unwilling to contest claims without evidence and fearful of legal costs, generally accept the claims, then pass the cost on to Spanish hotels under their contract.

As a result, hotels in the Balearics have threatened to ban British holidaymakers altogether, while some in the Canaries are asking clients to fill in forms claiming they have not suffered illness during their stay.

The scammers have arrived on Lanzarote, too. Tias’s Tourist Councillor Amado Vizcaino recently informed Gazette Life that a number of claims had been made against hotels on the island, and appealed to British tourists to think twice before attempting to defraud local businesses.

The British government has also pledged to tackle the problem. Foreign Minister Boris Johnson recently warned that Britain was in danger of becoming “the fake sick man of Europe”, saying that “If the figures are to be believed, the digestive systems of the British people have become the most delicate in the world.”

The most likely measure the government will take is limiting the legal costs so that companies can take claimants to court more easily. However, the government’s warning that such fraudulent claims could lead to up to three years imprisonment could point to tougher action in courts, too.