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Sleigh rides off as travel firm collapses

Around 3,000 disappointed holidaymakers were last night scrambling to rebook Christmas trips after a travel company collapsed into administration.

The failure of the Gloucestershire-based Travelscope, which followed two disastrous cruises, has hit up to 40,000 people. All customers will be able to claim refunds from either the Association of British Travel Agents or the Civil Aviation Authority, but will be out of pocket until at least March while claims are processed.

June Dolphin, from Stroud, said that she and her husband had planned to spend Christmas in Austria. "We were going to have a sleigh ride on Christmas Day," she said.

Travelscope's woes stemmed from the death of a passenger, Pat Horn, 78, who caught the norovirus, which causes gastroenteritis, on one of its cruises last year. This sparked legal action against the company by fellow passengers. A second cruise was also hit by a virus. Cancellations followed and, despite annual sales of 80m, the company faced a cashflow crunch, forcing its managing director, Richard Ford, to call in the administrators.

More than 3.5 million Britons are expected to spend Christmas abroad, although many had to endure long delays or flight cancellations yesterday because of severe fog.