Anger over 'bornagain' tour operator

DIRECTORS of a Scottish school tour operator are back in business only eight months after going into liquidation with a similar venture, leaving unpaid bills running to thousands of pounds and grounding 40 schools.

Jim Welsh and his co-director, Gerry Donnelly, of Top Class Tours in Motherwell, have startled schools and others in the highly specialist school travel industry by publishing a 2003 brochure which closely resembles that of Top Class Travel, which went bust last December.

The new brochure hit schools last week with the splash that the programme is "under new management" and has "full financial protection". It proclaims: "Your money is 100 per cent safe in our hands, no matter what happens!"

Both men are now being reported to the Registrar of Companies in Edinburgh and possibly to the Department of Trade and Industry, which has powers to disqualify directors. The Insolvency Act has a provision against restarting a company under a similar name. Mr Welsh says that he was not personally responsible for the failure of Top Class, had been unemployed since last year and needed to earn a living.

"As far as I know, there is no legal impediment to starting on a smaller scale," he said.

Payments would be covered by an insurance policy arranged through a broker, a widely used mechanism, he said. Mr Welsh accepts his new venture is similar to the previous company and says that he has received irate calls from former customers.

The revived company advertises that it is committed to "a policy of fair and honest trading" but Jim Manson, founder of Top Class Travel, said he was considering legal action against the directors. He sold out well before it collapsed.

Mr Manson said: "I would like to express my disgust at Mr Welsh's behaviour and I want it publicly known that I have no dealings with any person or company of that name. I would strongly advise in view of recent events that the teaching profession and parents be advised that they should only deal with companies which strive to better the industry and have the highest standards, namely, ATOL (Air Travel Organisers' Licensing) or ABTA (Association of British Travel Agents) bonds."

David Craven, chairman of NST, the Blackpool-based company which rescued schools stranded by the collapse, said the Top Class Tours brochure had the same typeface and logo and appeared to be the same programme "under new management". His own company was also considering a claim for damages.

Top Class Travel had no financial cover against collapse, although teachers believed that advance payments were protected by the company's ABTA bond. The company had been trading falsely after suspending its ABTA payments early in October.

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