A couple who made a false sickness claim while holidaying with Tui in Benidorm have been ordered to pay record costs after a judge threw out their “fundamentally dishonest” case.
Chelsea Devine, 21, and Jamie Melling, 22, both of Liverpool, booked a 10-day all-inclusive holiday to Levante Beach Apartments with Thomson (now Tui) in June 2015, and said they only ate and drank at their hotel.
The pair claimed to have fallen ill on the fourth day of their holiday but did not report their illness or lodge a complaint while they were away, or upon their return - even uploading cheery snaps from their trip to social media.
It wasn’t until May 2016, nearly a full year later, they made identical claims for a reported £2,500 each.
However, their claims were dismissed by judge, Recorder Sally Hatfield QC, following a hearing at Liverpool County Court where they were ordered they pay Tui £15,000.
“The statements are identical,” she said. “They [the couple] say that they did not collude, but it is clear the statements were not written by them. There are inaccuracies in them.”
The judge questioned why the couple did not complain at the time or when they got home, and why their accounts variously said they were ill for days and weeks.
“I cannot accept they would upload photographs of themselves as a happy couple if the holiday was as they claim,” said the judge.
Recorder Hatfield added she did not accept Devine and Melling only ate and drank at their hotel, and stressed there was no evidence of the illness being linked to their hotel.
A Tui spokesperson said: “It’s really disappointing we have had to go this far in order to defend our industry and hotel partners as well as protect honest holidaymakers.
“The court found Chelsea Devine and Jamie Melling brought claims that are fundamentally dishonest and have been ordered to pay our costs. This goes to highlight the penalty you can face if you bring an exaggerated or fraudulent holiday sickness claim.
“We hope this sends a clear message to anyone else considering this route. We will simply not pay compensation claims of this nature and we will bring all similar cases to a court hearing.”
Tui has also revealed it has referred the doctor who supported the couple’s case to the General Medical Council after it emerged he was married to a partner at the legal firm representing Devine and Melling. The law firm has also been referred to the Solicitors Regulation Authority.
The Tui spokesperson added: “We believe the fact medical evidence is being produced by the husband of a partner of AMS, the firm of solicitors representing Ms Devine and Mr Melling, raises serious and obvious ethical and legal questions.
“We’ve made the General Medical Council and the Solicitors Regulation Authority aware of this and also highlighted our concern to the court.”
Mark Tanzer, Abta chief executive, said: “This is the latest in a number of successful prosecutions relating to false sickness claims.
“The courts are sending out a very clear message that they will come down hard on fraudulent claimants who risk substantial fines, a criminal record and imprisonment.
“Action does need to be taken to put an end to false claims being made in the first place, including capping the exorbitant fees many solicitors are charging on the back of false sickness claims and banning cold calling by claims management companies.”
Abta is currently consulting members as part of its ongoing Stop Sickness Scams campaign, which aims to highlight the cost of false claims to the travel industry.
The association is calling for the closure of a legal loophole allowing legal firms and claims management brokers to make more money pursuing fees from foreign sickness cases than domestic, personal injury claims in the UK.
The court’s full judgment read: “The claims are dismissed. The claimants are to pay the defendant’s costs for the action assessed at £15,000 by 4pm on March 23.
“The defendant has permission to enforce the order for costs… the court having found the claims are fundamentally dishonest.”
It comes after another British couple, Leon Roberts and Jade Muzoka from Derby, were spared jail after making false sickness claims, also while holidaying with Tui.
Like Devine and Melling, Roberts and Muzoka said they fell ill during their trip to the Turkish coastal report of Belek in July 2015, only to later share pictures of their loved up luxury trip on Facebook.
Earlier this month, the pair, who have reportedly since separated, admitted fraud charges, which it is reported could have cost Tui £50,000.