By HEATHER BAILLACHE
A SHETLAND holiday company has gone bust owing customers hundreds of pounds in lost deposits.
Offering customers a cheap holiday, Northern Light Breaks placed adverts in English regional newspapers.
The couple who set up the company, Martin Allsop and Pam Brittain, began taking bookings last April. They operated from a rented home at Learness in Bressay.
A group of ten people from the north of England were the first to book, and were put up at the former military base at Saxa Vord in Unst.
The success of the company did not last long, however, and they were soon unable to meet their obligations to customers who had booked their holidays in advance.
One of their prospective customers was pensioner Judith Langton, from Leyburn in North Yorkshire.
She had seen an advert in her local paper, The Darlington and Stockton Times.
At a cost of £296, the company’s advert offers a gentle walking and sightseeing holiday cruise, accommodation in a scenic location, with food and trips included.
Attracted by the prospect of birdwatching and island trips, Mrs Langton phoned the mobile number for a copy of the advertised brochure.
When it arrived, it appeared “amateurish” but she said it was interesting.
She said: “It was no more than photocopied bits of paper in black and white, but the itinerary looked good.”
Mrs Langton booked the holiday in September last year, sending £150 as a deposit.
She duly received a letter of confirmation, thanking her for her “Shetland Isles holiday at Saxa Vord” booking and providing her with a reference number.
However, Saxa Vord co-owner Debbie Strang said they have only received two bookings from Northern Light Breaks in total – for trips made last season.
“While Mr Allsop has brought a couple of groups to stay in the self-catering accommodation in the past, I can confirm that he has not made any further bookings for his guests into our accommodation,” she said.
The letter also advised Mrs Langton that her that boarding documentation for the NorthLink ferry would be sent to her in January.
However by March this year Mrs Langton became concerned that she had not received her ferry tickets, and contacted the mobile number on the letter.
She explained: “I spoke to Martin Allsop and he was very confident and friendly. He said book the train ticket, and said the holiday is definitely going ahead. So I went ahead and did that, and I also booked travel insurance at the same time.”
Almost three months later, the date of her holiday, 19th June, was fast approaching, with still no sign of her ferry tickets.
She phoned again on 27th May and was told by Martin Allsop that his partner Pam Brittain would call her in the morning.
“He said that he didn’t have the paperwork with him and that his wife dealt with that side of the business,” said Mrs Langton.
That call was never made, and four days later Mrs Langton contacted Shetland Tourist Office to make enquiries about the company.
They passed her details to the SIC’s Trading Standards Department, which later contacted her along with others who had reported a similar experience with Northern Light Breaks.
She was told that there was little chance of recovering her money, as the couple do not have any.
She said: “Trading standards told me they had been investigating the company since April, although when I phoned Mr Allsop at the end of May he didn’t tell me they had financial difficulties.
“I was also told that Mr Allsop and Miss Brittain were selling their house and moving to England to get jobs, and they told him they would be making every effort to pay back the money.”
Mrs Langton said the trading standards department had also been informed that the couple’s house had been broken into, and all the paperwork for the bookings had gone missing.
She continued: “He said they were naive rather than just plain wicked, but I feel like I’ve been conned. It’s a scam.
“What annoys me most is the subterfuge involved. Why didn’t somebody phone me? All in all I’ve lost about £300, which I’ve had to write off.”
Trading standards manager David Marsh said he has made contact with “some” customers who had a similar experience with Northern Light Breaks, although he would not disclose how many.
He said this was more a case of the company being unable rather than unwilling to refund deposits.
“We have advised the people who have come to us about what they can do to pursue the money,” he said, although he admitted that it was unlikely they would see their deposits again.
Speaking of Northern Light Breaks, Mr Marsh added:” The response to the company in general hasn’t been entirely negative. If they are going to be running this sort of business in the future they are going to have to ensure they have the means to do it.’
Pam Brittain has a certificate of education (Adult and FE) from BABTAC (British Association of Beauty Therapy and Cosmetology) and CIBTAC (Confederation of International Beauty Therapy and Cosmetology).
Martin Allsop also has a certificate of adult education, although the awarding body is not named.
Both organisations offer courses in, among other subjects, eyelash perming, body waxing and massage.
Miss Brittain told The Shetland Times that they were having financial difficulties and that they would do all they could to honour their commitments to their clients.
Miss Brittain said: “There were not many people this has happened to and it is a modest amount, around £500, which we have already started to pay back.”
Miss Brittain would not say whether they had moved to England to find employment, although when asked if they were in Shetland she said “no”.
She said she and Mr Allsop were trying to solve their financial problems and were in touch with trading standards.