Woman ‘stole £95K’ from Holiday Travel

Belinda Traves, 50, goes on trial accused of stealing money from Holiday Tarvel in Bridlington. (Hull News & Pictures)
Belinda Traves, 50, goes on trial accused of stealing money from Holiday Tarvel in Bridlington. (Hull News & Pictures)

A former Bridlington travel agency manager lined her pockets with computer refunds, family cash and foreign currency totalling almost £100,000, a jury was told.

Belinda Traves, 50, went on trial accused of two charges of fraud and three thefts, stealing nearly £100,000 while working at Holiday Travel, in Promenade between 2007 and 2012.

Mrs Traves denies all the charges against her.

She is accused of using staff members’ passwords to claim refunds and taking cash her sister and her husband’s friend gave to her for their holidays. She is also accused of stealing cash in transactions for foreign currency.

Mrs Traves was trusted with keys to the office and safe and had access to high levels of security in the family-owned firm’s office before she was dismissed.

Katherine Robinson, Crown barrister, told a jury at Hull Crown Court: “This case relates to the fraud and theft carried out by the defendant when she worked for a travel agents Holiday Travel in Bridlington.

“It is a family-run firm owned by directors Stephen Allerston and Timothy Allerston. She joined in 2000 and was promoted to manager in 2004 because they were pleased with her work and trusted her.”

Mrs Traves was given higher levels of security to other travel clerks on the Tarsc computer system which managed all the financial transactions carried out at the travel shop. Tarsc controlled bookings, refunds and recorded cash receipts, cheque and credit card payments.

All the transactions on the computer system had three character identifiers - hers was BAT. Mrs Robinson said staff did not closely guard their passwords and it is the Crown’s case Mrs Traves had used other staff initials in her frauds and theft.

In police interview she denied being computer literate, but the Crown said the travel firm’s IT technician confirmed she had a great aptitude.

Ms Robinson said in 2008 Johnathan Creswell and a female member of staff spoke to Stephen Allerston about initial changes in the computer system. They said records of receipts and holiday sales which should have had their initials – and linked to the staff pay bonus system – had been changed to give credit to Belinda Traves. These changes amount to the first charge which alleges fraud, by changing computer records so she would qualify for commission.

Stephen Allerston checked the initials. He knew he had not done it. Mrs Traves denied it saying it was a computer error. A computer firm, Vertical Solutions, were contacted and said it would have to be a deliberate act.

The sales were worth £4,000. Mr Allerston decided it was a result of a competitive desire by Mrs Traves to do well and impress her bosses. To calm fellow staff fears he authorized a change in her password privileges.

Ms Robinson said the second charge of fraud alleges she abused her position of trust as the manager of Holiday Travel to make a gain of £92,000 in cash or credit. She said this was discovered after managers found false refunds prompted by a single event at the ending of banking at 5.30pm on January 25 2012.

Johnathan Creswell and the directors were in the back office. Mr Creswell happened to go through to the shop and saw Mrs Traves’ computer had a red screen – the page for authorising customer holiday refunds.

She quickly minimized it and told Mr Creswell she was looking for seats on flights for Turkey, said Mrs Robinson.

“Johnathan Creswell told the directors there was something going on,” continued Ms Robinson.

She said the directors looked at the system the next day and found three further transactions after banking was closed which had the initials BAT on them. Two were for refunds on holidays which had long since taken place and the other was a credit for £400.

Ms Robinson said: “We say the two refunds were fake, Stephen Allerston will tell you it is unusual to have refunds six months after the day of travel. This caused a loss to holiday travel of £400.

“Having looked into this error, it was decided to look for customer credits a long time after a travel had taken place. There were numerous.

“There were credits to herself, friends and relatives. On other occasions refunds were given to buy foreign currency or take cash from the till.

“The Crown say when she put through a refund for £300, it was not genuine - but theft.”

She said Mrs Traves was asked in interview by Stephen Allerston about the three transactions on January 25.

“He said her manner was unusual. She said: “I don’t know anything about them, no matter how many you ask me about!” He thought it was an unusual reaction, since he had not asked her about others. She said she had not taken anything from the company. The directors then decided to perform a full audit. The refunds amounted to £95,000.”

Ms Robinson said Mrs Traves was only accused of fraud for £92,000 because of the decision on dates for the charges.

Mrs Traves, formerly of Eighth Avenue, also denies charge of theft by stealing £2,200 for a Tenerife holiday her sister Heather Cooke paid for in cash in 2010. She also denies the theft of £1,000 and £700 given by Michael Hallis a friend of her husband’s

Mrs Traves who has now moved to Castley Lane, Pool, in Wharfdale, Leeds, told police she could only do enough to get by on the computer and did not know any of the staff passwords.

She denied any knowledge of the thefts. She insisted the computer sometimes changed the initials on bookings.

The trial, set for three weeks, continues.