Customers smashed a Lancashire travel agent’s window after a visa issue forced him to cancel pilgrimages to Mecca.

The Manchester Evening News reports that almost 200 Muslim pilgrims had their travel plans wrecked after visas failed to arrive at Ashton Travel from a London-based company.

The paper reports that although agent Babar Hussain explained it was out of his hands and vowed to return the money to customers, he still came under attack from customers.

As well as his shop window being smashed, a group of customers also turned up at his house demanding to speak to him, leaving Hussain with no alternative but to contact the police.

The Islamic pilgrimage, Hajj, is a duty expected of able-bodied Muslims at least one in their lifetime.

In total, 191 people were forced to cancel their trips due to the visa problem.

Hussain, 49, told the paper: “Our customers are so angry with us and we understand, they have saved up for this special spiritual pilgrimage. We are deeply sorry but we are suffering, we have been threatened at work and in our homes.

“We ask that the public support us while we get this money back, we promise our customers will get their money.

“We are part of this community and our families live here. We are ashamed of what has happened, this is a matter of our spirituality but we were only told at the last minute the visas had not arrived.”

Hussain’s brother, Sabir Raza, who also works at the agency and was planning to travel with the pilgrims to Mecca,  said: “We have the money back for the visas but cannot get it for the flights and accommodation without going through our insurance.”

Hussain says he was only told by London firm Travel Star the day before the first group was due to travel on September 27 that the visas would not be coming. By then he had already forked out £161,000 for airline tickets and £230,000 for accommodation in Saudi Arabia. 

Travel Star said new limits on the number of visas being issued had caused the problem, and said it had returned £82,000 that had been paid up front by customers.

Syed Jamal Akhtar, who runs Travel Star, told Manchester Evening News: “We told the agents not to buy tickets for travel before the visas had been confirmed. The problem has been down to a policy change, with 20%  less visas available. Only about five out of 600 arrived.”