Thousands of Brits affected after upmarket villa firm collapses

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Thousands of Brits affected after upmarket villa firm, Villa Parade collapses

Thousands of British holiday makers face summer chaos after an upmarket villa company collapsed.

Holiday plans are in limbo and customers are scrambling to get their money back.

Villa Parade owes customers more than £3m in the biggest collapse in the travel industry since 2008, The Telegraph reports.

Following the collapse of Villa Parade, the Association of British Travel Agents (Abta) has been accused of ignoring warnings that the company was struggling before it went into liquidation at the end of May but still allowed them to continue taking bookings until a few weeks ago.

The company, run by a husband and wife team Ian and Simone Sheekey, managed more than 1,000 properties across the Mediterranean and in America.

According to the Daily Mail, the firm ran up debts of more than £6.5million - £3.3million of which was owed to holidaymakers.

Mr Sheekey, 49, and his 45-year-old wife have two villas, worth £1.5 million, in Majorca and last week two Range Rovers were parked outside their UK home, reports the Telegraph.

Customers now have to wait anxiously for the return of their money on villas booked for the summer.

Brian McLaughlin, the retired boss of HMV, said he paid a £2,500 deposit on a villa in Majorca that he booked for three weeks in August for his family.

Mr McLaughlin contacted Abta in April after hearing that Villa Parade was in financial difficulty but the watchdog reassured him.

"Abta told me that as far as they were concerned Villa Parade was financially sound and met their stringent conditions of membership," said Mr McLaughlin, 64. "But Villa Parade stopped answering the telephone and the final time I went on their website the message said they had gone into liquidation. So much for Abta and their assurances", he added.

Abta has since written to Mr McLaughlin to tell him to reclaim his £2,500 deposit from American Express, his credit card company.

Jon Williams, nutritionist to the Wales rugby team had to pay the twice for the same villa in Majorca in order to safeguard his breaklast month reports the Daily Mail.

He paid £2,500 to Villa Parade and £2,500 to another travel company that took over its bookings.

Mr Williams had visited the same villa for the past few years as he knew it was suitable for his 10-year-old daughter, who has cerebral palsy.

After paying for the villa through Villa Parade, Mr Williams then received an email from another company warning him that the money had not been passed on to the owner of the villa.

"We had been to the villa three times. It has an outdoor jacuzzi which is great for our little girl. I didn't want to risk going to Majorca and finding I was barred from the villa. Once I was out there, it was clear Villa Parade was no longer operating and its office had closed down, said Williams, 42.

"Abta was reluctant to get involved. They were absolutely useless. Abta is there to protect its members, not the public", he added.

Travelopo, a rival villa rental firm, also approached Abta in April to warn the watchdog that Villa Parade was allegedly not paying the private owners and owed them money.

According to the Daily Mail, Travelopo claims to have evidence that some villas had been triple and quadruple booked by Villa Parade before it went bust.

Roger Fenton, Travelopo's managing director, said: "Abta knew of the problem for at least eight weeks. The Spanish owners came to us in desperation because they hadn't been paid for a year and were owed 2.5 million Euros.

"Not only that, they had distressed holidaymakers turning up for accommodation they had booked through Villa Parade whose contract had been cancelled.

"We alerted Abta as soon as we realised the scale of the problem - which had clearly been brewing for well over a year. Abta should have acted faster."

A creditor's report compiled by the insolvency firm O'Hara & Co. found that there was no money in the company's British bank account and that instead Villa Parade owed almost half a million pounds to NatWest Bank.

Villa Parade has blamed Travelopo for the demise of its business after Travelopo emailed some of its customers to tell them that Villa Parade had not been paying villa owners.

The firm also claims that negative postings on travel websites such as TripAdvisor wrecked consumer confidence in the company and led to its rapid demise.

A spokesman for Abta said it launched an investigation as soon as Travelopo raised concerns on April 9.

He added: "We will be working with the liquidator and other stakeholders to investigate the full circumstances of this failure, its causes and in relation to the recovery of all assets and losses,' he said.

He insisted all customers would be reimbursed, either through their credit card companies or through Abta. He added that the process could take a few months.

Chris Brooksbank, the company's liquidator, admitted it was a 'messy' state of affairs, but added: 'In defence of the directors they have been fully cooperative.'

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