A Birmingham-based Hajj travel company and its directors were ordered to pay a total of £44,484 at Birmingham Crown Court yesterday (21 November 2016).
Al-Hashmi Hajj and Umrah Tours Limited, based at 40 Trinity Road, Aston, was found guilty of seven offences under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations (2008) at an earlier hearing (11 June 2015) for false claims that the company held an Air Travel Organiser’s Licence (ATOL).
Company directors Mohammed Abdul Odud (50), of Trinity Road, Aston, and Merajur Rahman Choudhury (45), of Stuarts Road, Stechford, were also found guilty of the same offences in June 2015.
Yesterday the company was fined £14,000 and both directors were fined £7,000 each. Choudhury was also ordered to pay £16,484 in costs. A further £7,500 was secured through a Confiscation Order.
Trading Standards officers identified Al-Hashmi Hajj and Umrah Tours Limited on 6 June 2013 during a routine inspection of travel websites, which claimed on its website that “Al Hashmi are protected by ATOL reg no 9899.”
The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) had previously written to the company on 28 March 2013, as a reminder that its ATOL licence expires on 31 March 2013, stating it would be breaching ATOL regulations if it continued to advertise, sell or hold any licensable bookings before a new one was granted.
Al-Hashmi Hajj and Umrah Tours Limited applied for a new ATOL licence on 11 April 2013.
On 5 June 2013, the CAA wrote to Mr Odud, stating it was minded to grant a new ATOL licence, subject to a number of terms being met. It also warned that the previous licence had now expired, and the CAA would confirm when a new licence would come into effect. However the company continued to represent itself as having a valid ATOL.
While posing as consumers attempting to make Hajj bookings on 7 June 2013 and 11 June 2013 – and asking whether the company was ATOL protected – officers were told this was correct.
Councillor Barbara Dring, Chair of the city council’s Licensing and Public Protection Committee, said: “Package tour operators have a captive audience because visas for Hajj have to be booked through these companies, people can’t do it themselves. This leaves pilgrims exposed to criminals who wish to exploit them.
“I hope today’s successful prosecution reinforces the message we will continue to investigate and prosecute travel operators who flout the law and take advantage of consumers when booking.”
Notes to editors:
- Air Travel Organisers’ Licensing is a UK Civil Aviation Authority scheme to protect people who have bought package holidays and flights from member tour operators.
- Most UK tour operators are required to hold an ATOL licence – without which they cannot usually sell air travel.
- They should display the ATOL logo and a four-digit number: to check this, visit the CAA’s website www.caa.co.uk and click on ‘Check an ATOL’