Birmingham & Black Country

Birmingham travel company admits mis-selling pilgrimages

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Media captionThe sentence includes £38,000 in compensation to seven customers

A travel company has been ordered to pay almost £70,000 after mis-selling pilgrimage trips.

Umrah & Hajj Specialist Ltd, based on Coventry Road, Birmingham admitted five charges under unfair trading regulations.

Birmingham Trading Standards said one traveller had spent thousands arranging trips for his family, but they failed to match what was promised by the firm.

The sentence includes £38,000 in compensation to seven customers.

One of them, Mohammed Forzda, from Leicester, said he had been awarded £7,000.

However, he said he had paid £14,000 for the four members of his family to go on Hajj.

Despite the outlay, Mr Forzda he said they had been forced to sleep in cramped and dirty conditions in an "appalling" hotel, with meals often served on the landing.

He described it as "a once in a lifetime trip" for some of those he had travelled with.

Umrah & Hajj Specialist Ltd admitted dishonestly making false representation for own gain at Birmingham Crown Court on Wednesday.

It also pleaded guilty to a sixth charge of exposing others to loss, relating to not informing passengers about insurance requirements.

'Captive audience'

The prosecution, brought by Birmingham Trading Standards, was part of a crackdown in recent years on travel firms in the city offering packages to Mecca.

Jacqui Kennedy, of Birmingham City Council, said tour operators had a "captive audience" as visas could only be secured through the firms, which left "pilgrims exposed to criminals who wish to exploit them".

The authority said it first received complaints about Umrah & Hajj Specialist Ltd after the Hajj in October 2012.

They related to the standard of a hotel in Medina, transport, meals and guides, as well as aggressive company representatives trying to stop customers from complaining.

More than two million Muslims from across the world take the annual Hajj pilgrimage each year.

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