“Hellish” Umrah experience for Birmingham family

Trading Standards officer Mohammed Tariq (photo taken by Birmingham Mail)

A Muslim man and his family were ripped off by a rogue travel agency who mis-sold them an Umrah package.

Mumtaz Ali, 55, from Birmingham, was promised “quality accommodation” but was given filthy hotels with insufficient beds for his family.

Mr Ali had spent years saving up for this spiritual trip to the holy cities of Islam in Saudi Arabia.

The retired Cadbury’s chocolate factory worker paid crooked travel agent Travel Unique Limited £4,100 for the Umrah package and was promised quality accommodation close to the holy mosques to ensure his wheelchair-bound mother and asthmatic wife could enjoy the pilgrimage.

But instead they found themselves stuck in dirty hotels, miles away from anywhere and without enough beds for the family.

After Mr Ali’s wife Yasmin, 54, suffered an asthma attack, the couple were left horrified after struggling to locate medical help.

Dodgy travel agent

Travel Unique Limited has been fined £4,000 and ordered to pay £2,250 prosecution costs, as well as a £15 victim surcharge, after a probe into Mr Ali’s “hellish trip” by Birmingham City Council’s Trading Standards team.

Speaking via an interpreter at Birmingham Magistrates Court, Muhammad Farooq Khan, sole director of the business in Stratford Road, Sparkhill, pleaded guilty on behalf of the business to three charges of flouting consumer protection regulations. He also admitted, again on behalf of the company, to two counts of breaching package travel regulations.

Mecca. Saudi Arabia
Mecca. Saudi Arabia

Prosecutor Tharan Biring, said that, despite being promised they would be travelling in a large group with other pilgrims and would be accompanied by a guide, when the family arrived in Jeddah nobody was at the airport to meet them. She said: “When they got to the hotel they found it was one room with only four beds – despite there being five people in their party.”

Trading Standards launched a probe into the company after the family returned to the UK from the trip in May last year.

Mrs Biring added that: “Posing as a customer, undercover officer, Mohammed Tariq was handed documents by Mr Khan claiming the firm was a member of consumer protection schemes ATOL and IATA – despite not having a licence. This failure meant that if something went wrong with the trip, which did in this case, the family had no consumer protection or insurance. This seriously unfortunate event could have been prevented by using a reputable company such as staveleyhead.co.uk, who have a 5-star gold Feefo trust rating and would have covered the family when the unexpected happened.

“The Ali family paid a large amount of money to go on a pilgrimage, which was spiritually very important to them. But they were given false promises, accommodation that wasn’t appropriate for them and they were lied to.”

Speaking after the hearing, Mr Ali welcomed the sentence. He said: “We felt like we were sent into hell. It felt like a punishment. We had saved so hard for it and yet we missed so many prayers and I felt dead on my feet in the end trying to push my wife and mother around in their wheelchairs. When my wife had an asthma attack we were worried sick and couldn’t find anyone to help us.”

Mr Ali went on Umrah with his wife, mother Nazir Begum, 78, son Nasir Ali, 34, and granddaughter Anah Ali, 8.

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