A travel agent who admitted conning customers out of thousands of pounds for dream holidays which never materialised has escaped jail.

Former air hostess Kathy Ward, of La Mon Travel in Downpatrick, Northern Ireland, was handed a two year sentence suspended for three years.

Ward had admitted a total of 80 offences which involved duping customers in to booking holidays, Northern Ireland’s Newsletter website reports.

The court heard that one victim, James Lappin, had booked a return flight to Cambodia only to find the return part of the flight had not been paid for.

Downpatrick Crown Court Judge Stephen Fowler QC, said: “He was forced to live on the streets in Cambodia and beg for money and steal to survive before his family could raise the money for his return flight home.”

“Victims, as well as suffering financial loss of holidays paid for, also suffered the stress of untangling the financial consequence of your fraud on their credit cards,” he added.

Ward, from Tollymore Brae, Newcastle, admitted a total of 80 offences including fraud, theft and one of forgery.

As well as the suspended sentence, Ward was also banned from being a company director for seven years, and ordered that nearly £30,000 lodged by way of restitution, should be divided between her victims.

Ward’s partner Mark McConkey also admitted five counts of fraud by false representation and two counts of theft and was handed a 12-month jail sentence suspended for three years.

Judge Fowler said the frauds “showed a degree of planning and methodology”, where customers’ trust was breached.

“There were multiple victims over a significant period of time in which you, Ward, were the prime mover.”

At an earlier hearing, Ward admitted 28 charges of fraud by false representation, 33 of fraud by abuse of position, 18 of theft and one of forgery.

The court was told that neither Ward nor McConkey had benefited personally from the racket, and there was “no lavish lifestyle”.