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Birmingham travel agent jailed for Hajj pilgrimage rip-off

A BIRMINGHAM travel agent has been jailed for 15 months after he ripped off a family who paid £10,000 for a Hajj pilgrimage.

Chowdhury Ahmad promised the Nooris, from Rowley Regis, five-star food and accommodation on the trip to Saudi Arabia.

Instead they found themselves in a “cockroach-infested hovel” and had to buy their food from street vendors.

When they complained, Ahmad dismissed them grievances, saying: “God would judge him.”

At Birmingham Crown Court, Recorder Mark Rhind jailed Ahmad and told him: “The Nooris’ experience could not have been more different to what they imagined they had booked and paid for.”

Ahmad, 39, who owned Hellenic Travels in Coventry Road, Small Heath, was found guilty of one charge of fraud and three counts of flouting package holiday regulations after a trial last month.

He also pleaded guilty to two counts of illegally using the logos of travel protection organisations IATA and ATOL.

The trial heard how the Nooris and their two daughters, aged 26 and 32, went to Mecca in July 2009.

Mark Jackson, prosecuting, said the trip was a “catalogue of disasters” from start to finish.

Instead of a luxury hotel, the family ended up in an “appalling” apartment where they all had to sleep in the same room.

The only food they could get was street food, handed to them in carrier bags.

When they returned to the UK, the family complained to Birmingham City Council’s trading standards department, which then mounted the first prosecution of its kind against a package holiday deal.

Michael Grey, defending, said his client’s travel agency was not dishonest, as there had been no complainants other than from the Nooris.

He said Ahmad got into difficulty when the original airline, Hellenic Imperial Airways, decided not to operate flights out of Birmingham, forcing his business to collapse. But his client maintained he had done his best to get the Nooris to Mecca.

“The Nooris did get to Saudi Arabia, they were booked on flights and came back, the essence of the fraud related to the accommodation,” he said.

Jailing Ahmad, Recorder Mark Rhind, said: “You told the Nooris you had booked them four- and five-star accommodation with good food, all specifically designed for the Hajj and to be close to places of worship.

“Mr Noori paid you £10,000 and it’s clear from the verdict of the jury that you made no such booking and never intended to make a booking, and you took the money, and put the Nooris off again and again.

“Then you made cheap and shoddy last-minute arrangements, altering virtually every aspect of their trip for the worst.”

The judge went on to say that the Nooris ended up in a “cockroach-infested hovel” and only found decent hotel accommodation by paying for it themselves.

“Their experience could not have been more different to what they imagined they had booked and paid for,” he said.

“It’s not just the taking of the money; you placed that family in dangerous and unsanitary conditions in a country on the other side of the world where they did not speak the language.”

He said during the trial Ahmad had to tried to blame the Nooris for their experience, but told him: “This was entirely down to you – you have expressed no remorse or contrition.”

* Mohammed Noori has told how he feels that he has received justice now that Chowdhury Ahmad has been jailed.

“I am happy because justice has been done and it will also let all those Muslims know that there are people out there who will cheat them when they go on these pilgrimages,” he said.

“Ahmad has never apologised and mocked us every time we said we were going to complain, joking ‘Oh dear, I wonder how long I’ll get in prison?’.”

Speaking on behalf of the city council’s trading standards department, which brought the prosecution, chairman of the public protection committee, Coun Neil Eustace, said: “This sentence reflects the severity of the case.

“This is a multi-million pound fraud across the UK and in Birmingham we are determined to stop these fraudsters who prey on those going on religious pilgrimages.”

Read More: Birmingham Post