January 27, 2023 2.21 pm This story is over 10 months old

Former travel boss who cost schools over £350k avoids jail

He must pay compensation to schools

Eight independent and grammar schools suffered losses of over £350,000 and had to cancel their trips after a travel company director failed to tell them his ATOL protection had lapsed.

Marcus Buckley-Bennion, 64, was given a 16 week suspended jail sentence and disqualified from being a company director for fours years by a judge at Lincoln Crown Court.

The court heard Buckley-Bennion had spent many years organising successful school trips with suitable ATOL cover as a director of Dukes Sport Travel.

The ATOL scheme (which stands for Air Travel Organiser’s Licence) is a financial protection scheme that protects customers who book a package trip that includes a flight.

Noel Philo, prosecuting, said that ATOL cover was still in place when a number of schools made bookings for trips in the Autumn of 2015 and 2016.

However, Buckley-Bennion was legitimately reliant on ATOL certification held by another company, Matchpoint Europe Ltd, of which he was not a director.

That ATOL certification lapsed on 30 September 2016 when it was not renewed by the CAA, the court was told.

Passing sentence Judge Catarina Sjolin Knight said she accepted Buckley-Bennion had not set out to fool anyone as ATOL was in place when the bookings were made.

But Judge Sjolin Knight told Buckley-Bennion: “Between the start of October 2016 and the end of March 2017 you indicated to various people that you had a ATOL certificate. At that point that wasn’t true.”

Judge Sjolin Knight said: “These are schools which have taken a big hit.”

“The central point is that you did not tell the schools about the the difficulties that the ATOL certificate had lapsed,” the Judge added.

“The schools were left without trips they had at least paid a deposit for.”

In total eight schools suffered losses of £358,007.59. They included Bourne Grammar School and Stamford High School in Lincolnshire which each lost £44,736 and £97,422.50 respectively.

Kimbolton School in Huntington suffered the biggest loss of £108,500 and Shiplake College in Henley-on-Thames lost £29,250.

The LVS independent school in Ascot also lost £29,449.09.

A victim impact statement from Stamford High School was read out in court which described the impact on staff, pupils and parents after one trip to Sri Lanka was cancelled and another tennis trip to Spain had to be re-organised in the UK.

Another former bursar at Shiplake College added: “A loss like this simply stops something happening which will benefit the pupils. There was clearly a lot of disappointed students and frustrated parents.”

Buckley-Bennion, of Normanton Road, Crowland, pleaded guilty to wrongly indicating that he was the holder of an ATOL certificate.

He gave a no comment interview to the police and denied any dishonesty in a prepared statement.

The court heard Buckley-Bennion had no previous convictions or cautions.

Miranda Hill KC, mitigating, told the court Buckley-Bennion genuinely believed the ATOL certification would be renewed until 1 December 2016 and then made extensive efforts to ensure the trips were covered.

Miss Hill said matters had been hanging over Buckley-Bennion for five years, and added that he was the lone carer for his partner.

The court was told Buckley-Bennion could offer compensation of £10,000 within three months and then a further £700 a month from his Army pension for three years.

Judge Sjolin Knight told Buckley-Bennion that she could suspend his 16 week jail sentence for two years as he was the lone carer for his partner and was likely to comply with the order.

Buckley-Bennion was also ordered to carry out 100 hours of unpaid work in the community and pay compensation of £35,200. He was banned from being a director for four years.

The Judge ordered £2,000 each to be paid to Stamford High School and Kimbolton School from the initial £10,000 compensation, with £1,000 to each of the other schools, followed by £3,150 for each school.

The Crown Prosecution Service offered no evidence on eight fraud charges which Buckley-Bennion had denied and not guilty verdicts were entered.

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