A CRUISE company run by the former owner of the Rare Cow restaurant chain is being investigated by police after scores of people paid for trips they never went on.
Richard Lester's Cruisemile’s website was suspended this month and customers claim they have been unable to find out what has happened to cruises they booked.
Mr Lester ran the Rare Cow steak eateries in Jackson's Lane, Billericay; Chequers Road, Writtle and High Road, Earls Colne, until last month when he sold up for an undisclosed sum for financial reasons.
The main UK company involved in Cruisemiles, Cruise Direct UK, was struck off the Companies House register for not filing its annual accounts last Tuesday.
An Essex Police spokesman said: “We have received a number of complaints about this company and extensive inquires are continuing to establish whether any crimes have been committed.”
Sandra Snelling, 68, and husband David, 69, have been trying to get back more than £1,400 they paid for two cruises in installments from 2010.
Sold: The Billericay branch
She said: “We were booked on two cruises, but then last autumn the cancellations started and we have had nothing and get no responses.”
Mr Lester, who also calls himself Lord Richard Lester and counts celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay as a friend, has denied any wrongdoing.
He said Cruisemiles was run from Essex and Nevada, USA.
He said: “The US company went into liquidation, but I tried to prop it up with money from the restaurants.
Haut cuisine: Fine dining at the Rare Cow
Two years ago we won the World Travel Awards in our category and things were going great, but business multiplied so much that Paypal stopped our account because they classed travel as high risk. I tried to look for other people to process the payments, it was my baby that I started from scratch seven years ago.”
He added: “About 80 to 100 people have not had their cruises. The fraud squad did get in touch, but I thought there was going to be no further action. I suppose the police will have to take all complaints on board, but my legal guy has a statement prepared showing that everything was legitimate.”
Rare Cow was launched by Mr Lester in April 2013 and specialises in fine steaks from more
unusual breeds of cow. It won Essex Restaurant of the Year last year.
Are you an affected Cruisemiles customer?
Contact investigations reporter Jon Austin on 01268 469294 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.