A shocked Sheffield family were pulled out of an airport check-in queue by detectives – after being sold their holiday by a fraudster.
The Conways from Sheffield handed over £5,250 to family friend Rebecca Waterfall for the four-week holiday to Disney Land Florida.
But when they arrived to check-in June they learnt the defendant had paid for the trip using her employers’ credit card.
Pictured here smiling away in Manchester Airport, the family had no idea what awaited them as they approached the check-in desk.
Heartbroken Julie Conway, aged 57, of Crookes, husband Philip, daughter Gemma, son-in-law Michael and four-year-old granddaughter Lola were told they would not be able to fly by police.
Prosecutor Phil Dobson told the court: “One can begin to imagine the scene when the police officer approached the family group as they were in the check-in queue at Manchester, all excited about their family holiday, suddenly asked to stand aside because there was a problem.
“They did travel, but only after considerable anxiety and paying anew from their own funds, facilitated by the officer who lobbied on their behalf with Virgin, who weren’t initially sympathetic. They spent the first day of the trip unravelling and remaking arrangements, and all in the knowledge they would be asked to consult with the police, on their return, to pick the threads of the police investigation.”
Judge Patrick Field QC said: “One can only imagine the shock and distress of a family about to go on what was to be an enjoyable holiday, to be taken out of the queue, not just the shock, but embarrassing as well – toe-curling embarrassment, and on top of that to find oneself £5,000 or more out of pocket.”
Julie told The Star she entrusted 27-year-old travel agent Waterfall, a friend of her daughter’s, to book the trip after the death of her mother Doreen in November 2015. Her dad Frank also died a month before they were due to fly.
She said: “We got in touch with her and asked if she would be able to book us something. I’d just lost my mum and I didn’t need the added stress of booking it ourselves. We didn’t ask for a favour to get any money off it or anything like that.
“She was well aware of the situation with my mum dying and this trip was something to look forward to. Dad also passed away not long before we flew and we were grieving.”
Julie said she was ‘shocked’ when officers approached the family – all wearing special Disney-style T-shirts – and told them they had been scammed.
“We had an over-excited four-year-old jumping around. She couldn’t wait to get to Disney Land. I couldn’t believe it when the police told us what had happened,” she said.
The Conways shelled out more money for flights to Florida and Disney agreed to give them one night free until they booked something else.
Julie said: “The whole experience has been absolutely hideous.
“This was a break we needed after losing my mum and to be told the holiday wasn’t going ahead was just heartbreaking.
“You just don’t expect that of people you know. The money side of it comes second to me. I felt betrayed.
“The fact we trusted this person and they do something like this makes it all worse. If it was a stranger who did this to us then I think I could comprehend it a lot more.”
Waterfall, originally of Walkley but now of Hulme, Manchester, pleaded guilty to fraud by abuse of position at Manchester Crown Court.
She worked for Incentivise, a travel agent based in Lymm, Cheshire, between October 2015 and May last year. But over that period she left bosses more than £10,000 in the red.
She fraudulently used her bosses’ card to pay for holidays in Australia and Abersoch and also promised pals cut-price holidays in order to be popular – and then passed on the losses to her employers.
The Conways, from Sheffield, were cheated as she ‘robbed Peter to pay Paul’ in what the sentencing judge called the ‘travel agency equivalent of a Ponzi scheme’.
As Waterfall sobbed in the dock, her defence barrister made a ‘plea for mercy’, saying she had never been in trouble before and that her 30-year-old partner was about to undergo open heart surgery.
He described her actions as ‘immature and ill-thought out’, adding: “This young woman for the first time has made dreadful errors of judgement and ended up hurting people she had the trust of, the Conways, her employers, her partner and her family. She has been exposed for that, she finds herself in a grave situation.”
She is due to be sentenced today after being told by the judge she must have repaid the Conways.