A couple have been jailed for making fake holiday sickness claims in a landmark case.
Liverpool Crown Court heard Deborah Briton, 53, and partner Paul Roberts, 43, tried to claim compensation by stating they and their two children had fallen ill on holidays to Majorca in 2015 and 2016.
But the couple's social media showed posts where they boasted of holidays full of 'sun, laughter and fun'.
Briton sobbed as she was sentenced to nine months in prison after admitting four counts of fraud in the private prosecution, brought by holiday company Thomas Cook.
Roberts, who was sentenced to 15 months after admitting the same offences, cried and shook in the court throughout the hearing on Friday.
Family members, including Briton's daughter Charlene, who had initially been charged with two counts of fraud which were later dropped, shouted out in court as the couple were sent down.
Deborah Briton, 53, pictured left, and partner Paul Roberts, 43, pictured right, tried to claim compensation by stating they and their two children had fallen ill on holidays to Majorca in 2015 and 2016.
Sentencing, Judge David Aubrey QC said the couple's claims had been a 'complete and utter sham'
The couple made the claims over stays at Majorca's Globales America hotel (stock photo)
The court heard the couple, from Wallasey, Wirral, tried to claim nearly £20,000 for the fake gastric illnesses and would have also cost the holiday firm a further £28,000 in legal expenses had their claims been successful.
Sentencing, Judge David Aubrey QC said their claims had been a 'complete and utter sham'.
He said: 'They were bogus from start to finish, you were both asserting on your behalfs and on behalf of your two children that on two separate holidays you had suffered illness. They were totally and utterly fake.'
He said the claims, made in August last year, must have required planning and premeditation.
He said: 'Why? Pure greed. Seeking to get something for nothing.'
Judge Aubrey said there had been an 'explosion' in gastric illness claims made by holidaymakers from the UK.
Family members, including Briton's daughter Charlene (pictured in purple), who had initially been charged with two counts of fraud which were later dropped, shouted out in court as the couple were sent down. The family are seen outside court during a previous hearing
He said: 'Those who may be tempted in the future to make a dishonest claim in relation to fake holiday sickness, if they are investigated and brought to justice, whatever the circumstances of an individual, he or she must expect to receive an immediate custodial sentence.'
Sam Brown, prosecuting, said the couple had holidayed at the Globales America hotel in Majorca with their two children for two years in a row.
After the holiday in June 2015 Briton had written on social media: 'Safely home after two weeks of sun, laughter, fun and tears. Met up with all our lovely holiday friends who made our holiday fab.'
A post after returning from the second holiday in July 2016 read: 'Back home after a fantastic holiday, my favourite so far. Thanks to our holiday family for being part of it, plenty of holiday memories made to treasure.'
But in August that year they contacted David Norman Solicitors to make the claims.
The court heard the couple, from Wallasey, Wirral, tried to claim nearly £20,000 for the fake gastric illnesses and would have also cost the holiday firm a further £28,000 in legal expenses had their claims been successful
Following the hearing, a Thomas Cook spokesman said: 'The sentences handed down today demonstrate how serious the issue of fraudulent illness claims has become' (stock photo)
An intimated letter of claim which was read to the court said: 'Our client's holiday was ruined due to their symptoms as they were ill for the entire remainder of the trip. They were unable to enjoy the holiday.'
Mr Brown said: 'Both defendants knew that in issuing this claim he or she would be lying in order to support it.'
Briton was later contacted by a travel rep from the hotel who asked about the claims.
In a message, the mother-of-four told her the claims were due to 'Paul with his dodgy dealings'.
Holidaymakers were warned they faced prosecution for fake sickness claims
UK holidaymakers returning from their summer break were warned just months ago that they faced prosecution if they made fake sickness claims against tour operators.
Cowboy claims firms wrongly told the public there was no risk if they sought compensation despite not being unwell, according to travel trade organisation Abta.
It added that people were being bombarded by cold callers and social media messages with requests to submit claims after they get home from an overseas trip.
The penalties for those caught include a fine, criminal record and potential imprisonment either in the UK or in the destination of their holiday, the travel organisation said.
Charles Lander, defending Roberts, said: 'It was an idea the defendant formed from speaking to others in a pub.
'He stupidly believed those others who told him he wouldn't be detected. How wrong he was.'
He said Roberts, who had no previous convictions, was a 'broken man'.
Lloyd Morgan, defending Briton, said: 'She recognises the dishonour and disgrace she has brought not only to herself but to family and friends.'
But the court heard when interviewed by the probation service so pre-sentence reports could be prepared the couple had both said the claims were exaggerated rather than fake.
Mr Brown told the court there had been a 500 per cent rise in the number of claims for damages resulting from holiday sickness in recent years and the industry had introduced a number of measures to tackle the problem.
He said: 'One of the measures being the commencement of private prosecutions, of which this is the first.'
Following the hearing, a Thomas Cook spokesman said: 'The sentences handed down today demonstrate how serious the issue of fraudulent illness claims has become.
'This is a particularly sobering case but reflects what is going on across the UK travel industry, so we had to take a stand to protect our holidays and our customers from the minority who cheat the system.'
Holiday sickness claims in the UK increase by 500 per cent despite Government crackdown
Holiday sickness claims in the UK increased by 500 per cent between 2013 and 2016 to around 35,000, according to the Association of British Travel Agents.
Other figures suggest the global trend for reports of illness in resorts has actually declined in recent years, raising questions over the scale of bogus claims in the UK.
The Government has announced a crackdown, saying fraud is thought to be costing the industry millions and putting pressure on prices for law-abiding holidaymakers.
Back in July, a couple who made a 'fundamentally dishonest' compensation claim after making up a stomach bug were ordered to pay thousands to Thomas Cook.
Julie Lavelle, 33, and her partner Michael McIntyre, 34, demanded £10,000 after claiming they and their two children had vomiting and diarrhoea during their stay at the Parque Cristobal Hotel on Gran Canaria in 2013.
But Mr McIntyre allegedly had six pints of beer in Las Palmas Airport before flying back to the UK when he was meant to have gastroenteritis.
And a survey they filled out on the plane said the holiday had been either good or excellent in all areas.
They also did not mention their condition to hotel staff or tour representatives in the resort during their break, according to Thomas Cook's lawyers.
The couple were taken to county court in their home city of Liverpool where Thomas Cook secured its first victory in a campaign against fake holiday sickness claims.
They were ordered to pay the travel giant £3,744 compensation within 28 days after judge Juliet Herzog agreed the claim was dishonest.