A travel agent has admitted swindling tens of thousands of pounds from customers in an elaborate holiday scam.

Kathy Ward – former owner of La Mon Travel Limited in Downpatrick, Northern Ireland – duped dozens of customers, taking cash for dream holidays which never materialised.

In some cases, clients were left stranded at airports and ferry terminals after being conned.

Ward (39) broke down in court as she pleaded guilty to 80 charges on Friday, according to a report of the case in the Belfast Telegraph.

Appearing at Downpatrick Crown Court yesterday, she admitted 28 charges of fraud by false representation, 33 of fraud by abuse of position, 18 of theft and one of forgery.

Her boyfriend and co-accused, 47-year-old William McConkey admitted five counts of fraud by false representation and two of theft.

Ward was first charged in December 2010 after police carried out a fraud investigation spanning a six-month period from September 2009.

Sixty customers were conned out of cash by Ward. It emerged that the total amount of money involved had not yet been agreed by the prosecution or defence but it is understood to exceed £100,000, the Belfast Telegraph reported.

Defence barrister Gregory Berry QC said psychiatric reports for Ward would be prepared before sentencing.

Pre-sentence reports were ordered for both defendants, who are due back in court for sentencing in June.

Among the charges were details of how Ward:

• Kept cash deposits for holidays for herself
• Wrote ‘1’ in front of amounts made payable to her on customer cheques
• Changed the amount owed from hundreds to thousands
• Fraudulently used client credit cards in telephone bookings with operators, such as Royal Caribbean Cruises
• Applied for a personal loan of £25,000 under another name

Ward, a former air hostess, has a history of dishonesty. Six years ago she pleaded guilty to 14 counts of false accounting and theft between 2005 and 2006.

The latest proceedings were brought after police launched a fraud investigation following dozens of complaints from clients. One honeymoon couple were stranded in New York when a cruise, flights and hotels were not paid for.

Another family due to go on their first break for 30 years arrived at Dublin airport to discover their flights to Nice had not been paid for even though the money, as well as an unauthorised £1,300, had been taken off their credit card account by Ward.

In a third case, a 21-year-old was left stranded at the airport in Atlanta, Georgia, when he discovered his flight home had not been paid for.