A teenager was “dragged along” to play the role of distractor as her mother led a team of scammers in a daring bid to defraud hotels and businesses around Keswick.
Sonia Malhi, 39, used criminal tactics honed on a previous criminal expedition in Chester as she led a team who also targeted premises elsewhere in the Lakes and also West Cumbria.
As partners in crime, including her daughter, Tia, diverted employees’ attention at hotels and other businesses, Sonia Malhi covertly entered card numbers on machines using information from stolen receipts, before completing the default signing process in a fake name.
Between January 22 and 27 last year, the gang carried out frauds and attempted frauds totalling almost £14,000.
They splashed out on rooms at luxury hotels and champagne, although prosecutor Tim Evans told Carlisle Crown Court: “More often, refunds are obtained and explanations are given; ‘oh, a member of family has died, we need to go back to Manchester, we don’t need the rooms’.”
In the Keswick area, they visited the Skiddaw Hotel, Silver and Thread jewellery shop, Lodore Falls, Glaramara and Mary Mount hotels, the Bank Tavern and Star of Siam restaurant.
They also went to Milling Motorcycles, Whitehaven; Parkside Hotel, Cleator Moor; the Cook House and Thuline galleries in Windermere; and, in Kendal, Romneys and Stonecross Manor hotel.
But suspicions grew as the fraudsters struck. A Lodore Falls receptionist asked for three rooms by the crooks later saw them at the Mary Mount. “By that stage, hotels were passing details to each other, and the police,” said Mr Evans.
Arrests were made in Kendal and a raft receipts were found in Tia Malhi’s possession.
Her mum admitted conspiracy to commit fraud and was jailed for 20 months in February.
Tia Malhi, now 20, admitted the same charge and received a two-year community order comprising unpaid work and rehabilitation today for her lesser role.
“The offence was very much committed against a backdrop of her mental health at that time,” said her lawyer, Jane Greenhalgh. “She was effectively dragged along by her mother, who was the instigator. She had a peripheral role (of distractor), and was coerced by others.”
Passing sentence, Judge Nicholas Barker told Tia Malhi, of Hobson Crescent, Audenshaw, Manchester: “A host of different businesses were defrauded or (victims of) attempted fraud. It is, therefore, a serious matter.”