A bogus travel agent has been jailed for swindling families out of £130,000 and leaving them stranded without holidays.

Susan Lee ran a toy shop but told friends and customers she also had contacts in the travel industry which enabled her to get them cut price deals.

She got families to pay up to £8,500 in advance for holidays and then fobbed them off with excuses when they called her to ask about confirmations of their bookings.

Some were left disappointed with bags packed on the day they were supposed to be leaving as Lee pretended she was still trying to sort out their flights.

Lee, aged 59, preyed on friends in Okehampton and customers of her sweet and toy shop or her husband’s joinery business.

She did provide some holidays but was running a Ponzi style scheme in which she was using the finds from new victims to try to honour promises made to previous ones.

Exeter Crown Court was told she was robbing Peter to pay Paul but continued to take more than £3,000 from one customer even after she had been interviewed by police.

Lee, of Leaze Park, Okehampton, who runs a shop called The Emporium, admitted fraud and was jailed for two years by Recorder Mr Andrew Maitland.

He told her:”You carried out a determined series of dishonest acts based on a complete untruth, which was that you were in the holiday trade and were fraudulently offering discounted travel.

“You explained the reason why the money had to go into your account was because you were getting them as a bonus from your employment. It was absolute rubbish. It was a pack of lies.

“There were 13 families but more than 13 holidays. I dread to think of their feeling when they discovered there were no holidays and they were not going to get their money back.”

Mr David Sapiecha, prosecuting, said Lee started the fraud in 2010 and run it until it was closed down by police in 2015.

She targeted friends, customers and strangers who she cold called and claimed she had access to insider discounts from travel companies.

She told customers the best deals only became available at the last moment and persuaded them to pay in advance for holidays which she said she was booking.

There were a total of 13 victims who lost a total of £130,000 and although some £40,000 had been repaid from money paid by later customers.

Mr Sapiecha said:”She fraudulently offered holidays while falsely claiming she was an employee of a holiday company and would receive benefits she would pass on to customers.

“Among the lies she told was that as an employee she became aware of cancellations. She used this to explain why documents were not available until just before the holidays were due to start.

“If she did book and supply holidays, she did using money from other customers. Other customers waited with their bags packed as she continued to reassure them they were going, when clearly they were not.

“This was a sophisticated fraud which continued over a number of years with a large number of victims. She used lies to reassure customers. We say they were callous lies and that she resorted to blaming others.”

She took offence when customers complained, saying she was ‘devastated’ they did not trust her and inventing excuses including family illnesses.

Mrs Nikki Coombe, defending, said Lee never intended to defraud anyone but had got herself into a muddle and tried to keep the business going.

She said there were many satisfied customers who had enjoyed the holidays they paid for.

Mrs Coombe said Lee suffers from diabetes and cares for her arthritic mother and her adult daughter who is suffering from a serious illness.