Anger as creditors confront head of failed travel firm

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The Independent Online
VAL TJOLLE, head of the collapsed holiday company Land Travel, was bombarded with missiles and doused with water at a meeting with creditors in Bristol yesterday.

Disappointed customers swore and shouted insults like 'scum' and 'thief' as they were told they had no chance of a refund. An elderly man soaked Mr Tjolle with a jug of water while others tore up Land Travel brochures and threw them at him.

Their anger boiled over when the liquidator, Robert Buller, disclosed that the pounds 52,000-a-year chairman had additionally withdrawn pounds 400,000 from the firm's resources. He said Mr Tjolle had been taking pounds 14,000 a week from the firm in the last months before liquidation.

Mr Buller added: 'In my view the company was trading on a faulty basis over the last 18 months.'

Earlier, more than 200 people sat silently in the crowded hotel conference room to listen to the chairman, whose Bath-based firm collapsed at the end of July with debts of more than pounds 12m.

Mr Tjolle, who has filed for bankruptcy, told his audience he was sorry, and added: 'I have let you down.' On the advice of his solicitor, he said he would be unable to answer their questions.

Mr Buller said he would be reporting to the Department of Trade and Industry on the conduct of the directors and added: 'He (Mr Tjolle) should have stopped trading a lot earlier.'

Several people walked from the audience to stand close to Mr Tjolle. They shouted and angrily pointed fingers at him, accusing him of fraud.

One man produced a newspaper cutting showing Mr Tjolle's mansion home. The chairman took the microphone to say that on liquidation all his assets had been seized, including his house.

The creditors heard the firm had been trading for more than 18 years. When it collapsed, about 2,500 people were stranded abroad, and more than 25,000 lost their money and holidays.

Mr Buller, a senior liquidator for London-based Grant Thornton, said some creditors claimed their cheques were cashed up to the last day of trading, that the company gave the impression it was covered with an Abta bond, which it was not, and that high- pressure techniques were employed to make customers pay more quickly than required.

Mr Buller said that a finance director had warned the company in December 1990 that it was insolvent and should be placed in liquidation. But his advice was rejected and he resigned.

Mr Tjolle said his firm had carried more than a million people on affordable holidays.

'They were given a very, very good time. So far as I am concerned and you are concerned this is a very sad time. Our staff have lost their jobs, our customers have lost their holidays, our suppliers have lost their money. I personally feel I have let you down. I thank you for the support we have enjoyed over many years.'

At the end of the meeting, a creditor action committee was set up to have further talks with Mr Buller. Mr Tjolle sat with his head in his hands before being led away through a back entrance.

Land Travel's company secretary, Theresa McDermott, had been expected to attend the meeting, but failed to do so.

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