Former Marella Cruises general manager Karen Doyle has been given a suspended prison sentence after defrauding the company out of nearly £64,000 in gift vouchers.
Doyle, 49, of Grantham Avenue, Braintree, was sentenced to two years imprisonment, suspended for two years, during a hearing at Luton Crown Court on Monday (October 22).
She pleaded guilty to a charge of fraud by abuse of position during an earlier hearing on October 1 at the same court.
The court heard Doyle’s offending took place over an seven-year period between February 2011 and February 2018. She left the operator in March after nearly nine years, most recently holding the role of Marella Cruises general manager (supplier management and ancillary revenue).
Passing sentence, Judge Richard Foster said he was able to suspend Doyle’s term on account of her “exceptional” personal mitigation, which included positive character references from friends, family and former colleagues, as well as her early guilty plea and full and frank admissions during her Tui disciplinary process.
”You are very fortunate to leave court by the front door and not in a police van,” said the judge.
Doyle was also ordered to carry out 250 hours unpaid work by way of recompense and was made subject to a four-month electronic curfew.
"It’s tragic to see you, a lady of 49, of previous good character, here in the criminal court on such a serious charge," said Judge Foster.
"It’s tragic you’ve worked hard and been successful in the travel industry. You have thrown all that away, your good character, your reputation.
"You were paid a significant amount of money a year, a salary people can only dream of. But you still lived beyond your means."
Prosecuting, Prithvijit Hoon said the total amount in gift vouchers stolen by Doyle was £63,945, at an eventual cost to Tui of £58,803. Doyle, the court heard, spent the money on discounting holidays for herself, her friends and family, and other white goods.
He explained how managers, such as Doyle, were allowed to issue gift vouchers, usually with the authority of their line manager - but this, the court heard, was not explicitly required.
Doyle’s offending came to light in February after she emailed Tui’s contact centre to cancel a cruise holiday on which she was due to depart just five days later.
Hoon told the court Doyle rescheduled the trip and was issued a partial refund to the gift card she used to pay - in part - for the holiday, which was then raised with her line manager.
Tui launched an internal investigation and found Doyle had made other bookings using gift cards issued to herself. Each gift card, said Hoon, carried a unique reference number and could be traced.
Doyle made full admissions during the disciplinary process and was dismissed in March, Hoon said.
Defending Doyle, Nicola Howard described her client as a “workaholic”. “Her whole life revolved around work,” said Howard. “The company expected a lot of her - long hours, very high stress levels, it all had an effect on her and her personal life.
“She suffered from low self-esteem. She needed to be liked. She found it difficult to say no [and] wanted to buy people’s affections.”
Howard reiterated that despite it being company policy for line managers to authorise gift vouchers, Doyle was nonetheless able to do it herself.
She said many of the holidays Doyle booked were for friends and family, even promotional and charity events. “A lot of them were not for her,” said Howard.
The court heard how Doyle had hidden credit card debts of £40,000, unbeknown even to her husband and closest family, and suffered with obsessive compulsive disorder, for which she has since sought counselling. She has since reduced her debts to £27,000 and, with the help of family and friends, has been able to source the entire sum required to repay her ill-gotten gains.
Howard added Doyle was “well liked and respected” throughout the travel industry and felt “disgusted” and “ashamed” of what she did.
Doyle, who appeared under maiden name Mitchell, previously held roles with Royal Caribbean International, Air UK, Emirates, Cunard and Thomas Cook.
A Tui spokesperson said: “We take any fraudulent activity incredibly seriously and will be seeking to recover the funds. This is a clear warning to anyone considering anything similar and we will not hesitate to take legal action or refer such matters to the relevant authorities.”
Tui, when asked by TTG, declined to clarify its policy on gift vouchers and whether the policy governing how they are authorised has been amended in light of the case.