Crooked travel agent who faked cancer in ‘deliberate and calculated’ £2.6m holiday con on her family and 1,400 customers is jailed for nine years
- Lyne Barlow claimed to her customers that she was covered by insurance
- The 39-year-old was subject to an investigation after victims came forward
- Barlow claimed she was terminally ill while she was selling holidays to people
A travel agent faked cancer while defrauding more than 1,400 customers has been jailed at Durham Crown Court for nine years.
Lyne Barlow, 39, was ‘riding the monster of deceit’ as she used her fake illness to deflect the avalanche of complaints from devastated families whose holidays failed to materialise.
She was so determined to continue her charade that she even convinced her husband, Paul, and daughters aged four and five she was battling cancer.
Family members took her to hospital appointments, unaware that she was simply waiting inside before re-emerging claiming to have seen her consultant.
To make her story more convincing, she cut off strands of her hair and scattered them across her pillow to make it look as though she was losing it to chemotherapy.
Lyne Barlow, 39, claimed to her customers that she was covered by insurance and was a member of the trusted travel brand Association of British Travel Agents
Barlow also claimed to be suffering from a terminal illness while she was selling the holidays, Durham Crown Court heard in October last year
When Barlow was arrested in 2020 she hobbled into the police station with her head swathed in a scarfe and walking with a stick.
Custody photographs show a vast difference when she was re-arrested a year later and was forced to admit her ‘stage 3/4’ cancer had been a fabrication.
Barlow stooped so low as to defraud her own mother, Susan Coleman, 64, out of £500,000 – part of which came from an insurance payout following the untimely death of her father, Barry.
The rest was NHS ward sister Mrs Coleman’s retirement payout and savings, which Barlow told her she’d invested in a business venture which would make her mother rich.
Barlow took over her grieving mother’s financial affairs as she struggled to come to terms with losing her husband in 2015.
As she systematically emptied her mother’s accounts she intercepted her post to stop her getting bank statements.
A redacted email exchange Lyne Barlow had with a customer about her pretend cancer
Travel agent Lyne Barlow (left) arrives at Durham Crown Court to be sentenced for defrauding friends, family and hundreds of customers who bought holidays from her in a £2.6 million con
Lyne Barlow claimed to her customers that she was covered by insurance and was a member of the trusted travel brand Association of British Travel Agents. (Pictured left: Lyne Barlow)
She also mocked up bank statement from Barclays which appeared to show that her mother’s money was in fact growing rather than disappearing.
Barlow also took her mum away on lavish holidays along with her daughters.
However it emerged the reason for this was, on some occasions, that Barlow knew through the intercepted post, that bailiffs were due to turn up at her mum’s house and she didn’t want her to find out.
Mrs Coleman was left penniless by a daughter who used part of her money to set up Lyne Barlow Independent Travel in Stanley, County Durham.
Barlow offered holidays at astonishing prices to drum up trade.
Customers were able to snap up all inclusive trips to Dubai for just
£500 and word quickly spread of her extraordinary bargains.
The bubble quickly burst as families saw their hard earned money vanish on holidays that they never got to take.
Some paid up to £5,500 to arrive at their destination and discover no funds had been received by the hotel so there were no rooms booked.
Others arrived to discover they had no place on the return flight and were stranded abroad until they could find their own way back.
Eventually a Facebook group was set up by furious victims of Barlow’s scam and an agreement reached to go to Durham Police en masse.
There were so many calls to the force’s HQ that they had to be directed to an email address because emergency callers would have been unable to get through.
In total Barlow could be proven to have defrauded family, friends and customers out of £1.2m, but investigators believe the total sum she gained over a period of five years from 2015 to 2020 was £2.6m.
Barlow admitted theft, 10 counts of fraud and possessing criminal property at Durham Crown Court and was jailed for nine years.
Judge Joanne Kidd told her: ‘You have presented yourself to those who knew you as a charming an engaging woman.
‘You are clearly a woman with significant intellectual ability but you also have an extraordinary talent for dishonesty.
Her first victims were family and friends and she used their savings before setting up an independent travel agency, in which she fraudulently sold holidays, reporting them to be ATOL and ABTA protected, the force said. (Pictured: stock image of a beach)
‘You mercilessly abused the trust of your nearest and dearest in their darkest hours and set about targeting other vulnerable people of your acquaintance who trusted you in order to satisfy your relatively lavish lifestyle.
‘This involved lavish holidays, an expensive car and designer goods.
‘The extent of the betrayal of your own mother is truly breathtaking.
‘As you gallivanted around your mother’s utility bills went unpaid and county court judgements rained down upon her.
‘Bailiffs visited her home, unbeknown to her because you deviously arranged to take her away on visits on the days they were to arrive.
‘I take the view that you are a thoroughly callous individual.’
Tony Davis, mitigating, said: ‘Once she began riding the monster of deceit it was inevitable it would come crashing down and it did.’
Barlow squandered the cash handed to her on designer clothes, prestige cars and holidays for her and her immediate family, with exclusive breaks in Dubai being her chosen retreat.
The charges stated that Barlow made false representations by purporting to be an ABTA and ATOL registered travel agent when in fact she was using criminal cash to finance further frauds.
Money handed over by customers was being used to pay for holidays that subsequent clients booked through her, in a Ponzi-type scheme.
But her jugging over other people’s cash came crashing down in 2020 when police were called in.
Furious customers were arriving at her home even as officers moved in to arrest her.
She used her ‘cancer’ as a shield to fend off angry people she had conned.
In an email she told one customer who was chasing a refund for a
holiday: ‘Unfortunately I’ve just found out my cancer has spread and it’s gone to stage 3/4 in my bones and need to have chemo out into my spine to stop it from getting into my brain. It’s going to be pretty intense.’
Detective Sergeant Alan Meehan from Durham Police Complex Fraud Team led the investigation.
He said: ‘At the time of her arrest we were aware that she was telling people she had cancer and at that time we kept an open mind on whether that was correct or not not.
‘As part of the investigation we asked to access her medical records and it was only then that the truth emerged that she had been making the whole thing up.
‘It was a determined and calculated attempt to distract attention from her crimes and deflect blame away from her because she hoped people would feel sorry for her.
‘The lengths she went to were very unusual. It came as a massive shock to her husband that she did not in fact have cancer.
‘She wore a scarf over her head and appeared to be losing her hair, although we believe she was cutting off strands and scattering it across her pillow at night to keep up that deception.
‘Members of her family were even taking her to hospital appointments that never existed.
When she was first arrested in September 2020 she presented as a very frail and sick woman, walking with a stick and with her head in a black scarf to cover the apparent hair loss.
‘Once confronted by the medical information she had no option but to admit she’d been lying.
‘The second custody photograph from when she was re-arrested in 2021 show the true picture, with no sign or suggestion of illness.
‘In our opinion it’s a serious aggravating factor in the largest case of fraud this force has ever dealt with.
‘Lyne Barlow was trying to attain a lifestyle she could not afford and rather than stop as she got out of her depth she continued to take money from more and more victims.
‘The number of calls we received on this case was unprecedented and once they started coming in they were so many that we had to set up a dedicated email as the control room was in danger of being overrun.’
James Lewis, of 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 legislation.’
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