Travel firm problems put trips in jeopardy for Lowestoft-based Take That fans, holidaymakers and West End theatre-goers
CUSTOMERS of a coach tour operator are demanding answers after its owner and two employees were jailed for importing drugs, leaving hundreds of holidays and trips in doubt.
More than 200 Take That fans from the North Suffolk and Great Yarmouth area are among those affected by the problems affecting Lowestoft Travel. Many paid �129 for a single ticket to the gig at Wembley stadium – but all remain in the dark as to whether they will get to see the popular boy band, or receive a refund.
Scores of other customers, who have spent hundreds of pounds on coach holidays in Europe or for trips to see West End shows, are also uncertain as to whether their bookings will ever be honoured.
The problems emerged after the company's owner, Symon Thorp, 44, was jailed for four years at Canterbury Crown Court on March 15. His employees, Owen Marshall-Elliot, 68, of Beccles Road, Gorleston, and David Clark, 51, of Rowan Way, Lowestoft, received three-year and two-year jail terms respectively.
The trio were arrested at Dover on June 29 after customs officials found four holdalls containing 23.9kg of cannabis, with a street value of �68,832, in the main hold of a double decker bus owned by married father-of-four Thorp.
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The firm's telephone line was not working this week, leaving customers unsure if pre-paid trips would go ahead.
The tickets were bought through two agencies – Music Lovers in Gorleston and Anglia Copy and Print in Yarmouth – which then paid the ticket supplier and coach organiser Lowestoft Travel. However, as yet the company, which has a business address listed as Hopton Timber Estate, Hall Road, Hopton, has not supplied the tickets.
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Hundreds of holidaymakers have been booked on coach tours, one of which was due to leave for Spain today. Further coaches are due to head for Italy, Spain and Croatia during the coming months.
Estelle Mann, owner of Anglia Copy and Print, said she had been inundated with calls from customers who had paid as much as �299 for their summer break, and wanted to know what was happening and if they could get a refund.
She added: 'I have just total sympathy for the people who have booked, I feel so bad for them.'
Many people have made complaints to Norfolk Trading Standards and Norfolk Police, who are investigating.
Roger Webster, owner of Music Lovers, said he was hoping to provide a silver lining for Take That fans as he was speaking to the band's management about the possibility of making another arrangement to get fans to the gig.
This week, Thorp's wife contacted The Journal and insisted her husband had always put his customers first, and that he would be appealing against his conviction.
Thorp's legal counsel Ross Burrows said: 'Mr Thorp is extremely anxious that he could be disrupting a number of holidaymakers who have booked through his travel agency.'
• FURIOUS customers of Lowestoft Travel were demanding answers this week after many spent hundreds of pounds on holidays and trips that, they fear, will never go ahead.
Tammy Abramson, from Lowestoft, said she was 'gutted' after paying nearly �400 for three tickets with Lowestoft Travel last December to go to the Take That gig later this year. Other Lowestoft Journal readers revealed they had paid more than �300, �400 and in some cases �500 in cash to see their heroes.
Theatregoers have also suffered. Michelle Innes said she and her autistic teenage daughter had beenb affected.
Ms Innes said: 'We were booked to go to see The Wizard of Oz last Wednesday, but on the Tuesday afternoon I received a call from one of the other drivers to say the theatre had overbooked and there were no tickets.
'He said he was so sorry and assured me I'd have the money back in the form of a cheque the next day - even though I'd paid cash in full back in January...I'm so angry.'
Zoe Mann, from Lowestoft (pictured), was another to miss out last week after her trip to see The Wizard of Oz in London was cancelled a day before she was due to leave, losing �62 in the process.
The 18-year-old Lowestoft College student, who had organised the trip to London as part of her final project for her art and design college course, was devastated. 'I am doing a project on set design so I wanted to see how the designs are made and this was quite important as its my final project of the year,' she said.
For Ashley and Gloria Lake, from Homeport in Lowestoft, their dream �758 coach holiday to Costa Brava in Spain in September this year has turned into a nightmare. The couple who 'scraped around' to save the money and paid in full in January, are now facing up to the bleak prospects of losing their holiday.
An angry Mr Lake, 64, said: 'If I do get anything back it will be a bonus.' He had also, unsuccessfully, tried to speak to Lowestoft Travel and visited their Hopton business premises, which were closed, this week.
• Have you lost out on dream trips to concerts after buying tickets from Lowestoft Travel? Write to The Journal, 147 London Road North, Lowestoft, NR32 1NB or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org