Upton Park travel firm and boss fined £43k for mis-selling pilgrimages

Shah Shahin Chowdhury was sentenced at Birmingham Crown Court. Picture: PA

Shah Shahin Chowdhury was sentenced at Birmingham Crown Court. Picture: PA - Credit: PA Archive/PA Images

A travel firm and its director have been told to pay £43,000 after being convicted of misleading customers booking Islamic pilgrimages.

Islam Freedom Limited - based in Green Street, Upton Park, and linked to Holy Makkah Tours Limited, which also traded from that address and Small Heath in Birmingham - was prosecuted at Birmingham Crown Court following a Trading Standards investigation in 2014.

Officers, assisted by City of London Police, uncovered false promises that travel packages were Air Travel Organisers Licence (ATOL) protected as part of a national project to tackle Hajj and Umrah fraud in 2014.

The firm, along with company director Shah Shahin Chowdhury, 44, of West Bromwich, were fined last Thursday.

Both were found guilty of five offences under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 in August 2016.

Islam Freedom Limited was fined £10,000 and ordered to pay £5,000 in costs - as was Chowdhury who was also disqualified for four years from holding any directorship.

Trading Standards staff discovered the irregularities when conducting an inspection of travel websites in September 2013.

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They found that customers using the Islam Freedom website were told to ‘book with confidence’ as their packages were ATOL protected, despite the company’s licence expiring in March 2013.

In a subsequent call five months later, a Trading Standards officer posed as a customer to enquire about a Hajj tour.

He was advised that Islam Freedom Limited was ATOL bonded while the website still displayed the licence logo.

Birmingham City Cllr Barbara Dring said: “This case highlights the need for people booking any holiday to be aware that internet-based travel firms have to adhere to the same codes of practice as those based on the high street.

“It is also a great example of how working closely with our local authority partners has helped us bring a successful prosecution.

“Trading Standards is here to protect Hajj pilgrims from being ripped off by unscrupulous travel providers.”

Holy Makkah Tours Limited, and its director Mohammed Suba Ibn Nozir, 44, of Wyatt Road, Forest Gate, admitted seven offences under the legislation and were ordered to pay a total of £71,417 at Birmingham Crown Court last month.