Birmingham 'Free' hols firm goes bust

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Birmingham 'Free' hols firm goes bust
« on: April 11, 2004, 19:53:05 »
'Free' hols firm goes bust

A travel firm which told Midlanders they had won free exotic holidays is under investigation by Trading Standards after going bust.

Customers paid £80 'processing fees' to Birmingham-based West Court Holidays for breaks to Spain and the Canary Islands after being enticed to a presentation.

But the company, which was also selling timeshare deals, has now ceased trading - leaving many 'winners' out of pocket.

A Sunday Mercury investigation can reveal that its director Helen Girling, who lives in a luxury home in Knowle, Solihull, has also been involved in other failed or controversy-hit firms.

And the businesswoman also runs an internet escort agency offering to provide men or women to clients for "stimulating and pleasurable encounters" at £650 a night.

Caterer Julie Lockley, from Wolverhampton, was told she had won a family holiday in a phone call to her home from West Court Holidays last summer.

Julie, 44, said: "I received a call out of the blue saying we were the guaranteed winners of a holiday to an exotic destination.

"All we had to do, I was told, was attend a seminar in Hall Green, Birmingham, where we could collect our prize.

"We knew there might be a catch, like, listening to a talk about timeshares. But we did not mind if we received a family holiday out of it."

Julie and husband Mike, who have one son Joe, 12, attended the seminar on June 7 last year.

Mike, 45, a writer, said: "It was packed out with people and was very professionally put together.

"We were subjected to a high pressure sales talk about timeshares which went on for hours.

"But when we insisted we were not interested in a timeshare they told us we still had our holiday prize to claim.

"We were asked to pay a £79 'processing fee' and told our holiday details would be mailed to us later. We waited and waited - but never heard from the firm again.

"We tried ringing the contact phone numbers we had for the company shortly after Christmas, but they were all dead. That was when we started to get suspicious and called Trading Standards at Birmingham City Council.

"An officer has now told me that they have received other complaints against West Court Holidays from customers."

Helen Girling, 33, is named as secretary and director of West Court Holidays which was based in Shirley, Solihull, and which was formed in March 2003.

The company, which never filed any accounts, now faces officially being struck-off by Companies House, the agency which regulates firms.

Mandy Bailey, 34 and from Kingshurst, Birmingham, is also listed as a director of the firm.

On Thursday the Sunday Mercury visited Miss Girling at her luxury semi in the leafy suburbs of Knowle. A top-of-the-range Freelander, worth £25,000, was parked in her driveway.

Miss Girling pledged all West Court Holidays customers that were owed money would get it back.

She said: "We just ran out of money and got into financial difficulty and couldn't afford to keep going.

"There are still some outstanding agreements with West Coast Holidays customers, but we will do our best to sort those out if they contact us."

Miss Girling is also listed as director of Bond Escorts, a Birmingham-based agency offering to provide men and women to clients for up to £650 a night.

Its internet website gushes: "Our companions offer a first class service that is available to our members who are seeking a stimulating and pleasurable encounter. We provide an outcall service to your home, hotel or business place."

Yet, despite the website still operating, Miss Girling told our reporter Bond Escorts was no longer trading.

She said: "It wasn't an escort agency offering sex, it was a legitimate dating agency.

"It also ceased trading in October."

The Sunday Mercury has also discovered Miss Girling worked for two other companies accused of owing clients money or treating them unfairly.

She was manager of the Birmingham branch of Top Choice Computer Careers which was found guilty of false advertising by the Advertising Standards Agency in December, 2002.

The company had claimed to be offering £18,000-ayear jobs in IT. But when applicants were interviewed they were told there was no job and instead they were asked to pay £2,000 for training courses.

The firm went bust last month - leaving more than 50 angry students out of pocket.

Miss Girling said: "I heard last month that the company had been in trouble but I left in January 2003.

"I didn't know anything about it and I was a shop manager so had no legal responsibility. I have no connection with what happened there."

Miss Girling also worked as a consultant for Hazel Green Village timeshare company, based in Lichfield, Staffordshire, which has been criticised by clients.

They claim maintenance costs were unfairly raised from £150 a week to £700 a week in two years, leaving owners threatened with repossession because they were unable to pay up.

The company also now faces being struck off by Companies House.

Last night a spokeswoman for Birmingham Trading Standards confirmed they were investigating a complaint from the Lockley family against West Court Holidays. She refused to divulge if any other complaints had been received against the firm.