County Durham family held to ransom in Turkish hotel

A NORTH East couple have told how Turkish hoteliers held them to ransom in a locked office after a UK tour operator went bust.

Michael Stephenson with wife Valerie and their daughters

A NORTH East couple have told how Turkish hoteliers held them to ransom in a locked office after a UK tour operator went bust.

A two-week break in sunny Marmaris turned into the “holiday from hell” for Valerie and Michael Stephenson when the company they booked the trip with – Holidays 4 U – collapsed on Wednesday.

Fearing they wouldn’t be paid, hotel staff at the resort demanded cash and trapped the tourists in a room for 40 minutes.

Mr and Mrs Stephenson, and their two daughters Amy, 14, and Rebecca, 15, were among the estimated 2,000 people from the North East, 13,000 nationally, still in Turkey when the firm went into administration.

The family had planned the break a year in advance, paying £1,500 from savings, and were celebrating both welder Michael, 43, and Amy’s birthdays during the trip.

It was Tuesday night when the party was cut short as news of the firm’s imminent collapse began to trickle through. Hotel staff, whom the Civil Aviation Authority believes are owed two months’ fees by Holidays 4 U, turned on UK sunseekers.

Mrs Stephenson, a nurse from St Helen Auckland in County Durham, said: “The hotel management told us the computers had crashed and they had to give everybody’s details to the police and the authorities so they knew who was staying in the country.

“We all had to hand in our passports and we all handed them over thinking that was the reason. Then, the announcement came over the tannoy that Holidays 4 U had gone bust and we would be kept informed.”

The family were concerned about getting back home, but the situation was soon to get worse. “At about 11pm, we were summoned to the office by managers,” said Mrs Stephenson. “They shut and locked the door and stood in the way so that we couldn’t get out.

“They said they hadn’t been paid for the holiday and we had to pay the money or we wouldn’t get out and we wouldn’t get our passports back.

“They wanted the full two weeks’ money and we said ‘we don’t have it’. They told us ‘phone your family at home and get it’. The girls were outside screaming because they could see what was going on through the window.

“They basically held us to ransom. I was ill with stress. I was thinking, I just want to go home. I couldn’t believe what was happening.” The couple threatened to contact the embassy and say they were eventually allowed to leave.

Mrs Stephenson said others buckled under the pressure.

Hundreds of holidaymakers from the region who booked with the Brighton- based operator are still in Turkey.

The CAA has pledged to ensure, under the Air Travel Organisers’ Licence (Atol) scheme, everyone’s holiday will continue as normal and compensation will be made available.

Mrs Stephenson added: “We refused to pay but we know that some people did give them money. We know that the hotel only had three days of food left and we have heard from people who are still out there that some people have been kicked out of their hotel and have had to sleep on the beach. It has been the holiday from hell but I think we have been the lucky ones.”

The family’s plane touched down in Newcastle Airport on Thursday night.

“I could have kissed the floor I was so pleased to be back home,” said Mrs Stephenson.

The Civil Aviation Authority said anyone forced to pay more money should get a receipt and lodge a claim.

A spokesman said: “This shouldn’t happen but we are dealing with 13,000 and there are a significant number of Turkish hoteliers who don’t understand the system that we run here.

He advised anyone who has issues with hoteliers and their passports to go to their local consulate.

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