Posted on Friday 3 February 2023
A travel agent who pretended to have terminal cancer and left more than 1,400 holidaymakers out of pocket or stranded in foreign countries when she failed to book their trips has been jailed.
Lyne Barlow set up her own business Lyne Barlow Independent Travel in November 2019, having previously been employed as a travel agent.
She pleaded guilty to several counts of fraud relating to loans, investments, and holiday sales, and a further charge of money laundering, all totalling in the region of £1.2m, when she appeared at Durham Crown Court in October.
At Durham Crown Court today (Friday), Barlow was sentenced to nine years in prison.
The 39-year-old, formerly of Stanley, County Durham, quickly gained a reputation of being able to provide holidays at the cheapest price around and she told customers she was ATOL and ABTA protected.
News of her offers quickly spread, particularly on social media, with dozens of satisfied customers leaving 5* reviews.
However, unbeknown to her customers, Barlow’s business used websites accessible by anyone looking for a holiday which she would sell to her customers at heavily discounted rates.
Barlow made up the shortfall by using money which was either her own, borrowed from family or friends or loaned from the bank.
She used new bookings to fund existing holidays, in what is described as a ‘Ponzi’ style scheme.
In many cases, she sold customers a holiday but they discovered they were getting a much shorter trip and in some instances without return flights, which they only found out when they had reached their destination and were therefore left stranded.
Other holidaymakers only discovered at the airport that they did not have seats or that the booking had been cancelled because it had not been paid for.
Once a holiday had been agreed and payment arrangements made, Barlow would often promise to send booking confirmation details which failed to arrive.
She would cite reasons such as delays from holiday companies and in some cases, customers would be told she was behind with her bookings due to her cancer treatment and she duped family members into taking her for fake hospital appointments.
It is believed problems began back in 2015 when her father died suddenly. She offered to help with the family finances, but instead accessed bank accounts and intercepted post, so family members did not realise money was being taken.
Barlow also encouraged family and friends to “invest” their savings and pension pay outs, promising them they were likely to see up to a six-figure return, however this never materialised.
Some of the money she did gain was used to fund her own lifestyle, which included foreign holidays, designer clothes and lavish parties.
Detective Sergeant Alan Meehan, of Durham Constabulary’s Economic Crime Unit, who led the investigation, said: “Fraud is a horrendous crime and Barlow’s actions were appalling.
“She made a conscious and deliberate decision to do what she did. There were points at which she could have put a stop to it all, but she carried on and now she is now paying the price for her actions.
“Sadly, so many people have been affected by what she did, lives have been changed forever and some will never be the same again.
“Not only did Barlow offer holidays she could not deliver, but she also took advantage of the generosity and understanding of those around her, which has resulted in such far-reaching consequences.
“She wanted a quality of life she could not afford, which resulted in her defrauding her family, friends, and even complete strangers.
“This is one of the biggest fraud cases Durham Constabulary has ever dealt with and I would like to again thank everyone who came forward for their patience and understanding while we carried out what was a thorough but lengthy investigation.”
James Lewis, specialist fraud prosecutor with the Crown Prosecution Service, said: “Barlow acted with greed, using false promises and deceptive lies, to convince family and friends, as well as hundreds of customers, who all trusted her, to part with their money so that she could sustain her own lavish lifestyle.
“Fraud is an insidious crime and the cost to the many victims in this case has not just been financial; it has also caused huge emotional distress and extreme disappointment to devastated customers who had to find out their holiday did not actually exist at a time when the country was in the grips of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Thanks to the thorough investigation by Durham Police and to all the victims who came forward to report her, we were able to bring Barlow to justice.
“We will now be taking steps to recover this money taken through Proceeds of Crime.”