A WOMAN who defrauded more than £20,000 from friends and family – money intended to pay for their dream holidays – has been jailed.

Janet Butler, of Broad Leas Court, St Ives, was paid the money while she was running All Around Travel from a previous address in Ramsey.

But the 56-year-old did not arrange any of the trips, leaving her friends who had booked holidays with her thousands of pounds out of pocket and with no chance of a break, Maryam Syed, prosecuting, told Huntingdon Crown Court on Wednesday (August 8).

One of the victims, Louisa Dyer, was planning on celebrating her 40th birthday in May last year in America and had paid Butler more than £7,500. When it came close to the departure date, Ms Dyer contacted the tour operator to delay the trip, and found that nothing had been booked.

Similarly Mark Berridge and Pamela Jackson paid Butler £2,494 and £501 respectively for breaks in May 2011. And Betty Thompson paid for holidays to the Galapagos Islands, Spain and Singapore - costing a total of £6,550 - but all failed to materialise.

Butler, pictured right, also took money from a distant relative, Marion Gillam, who paid £4,900 for a Far East cruise in October 2010.

As well as defrauding friends, Butler stole £5,000 from Surrey County Council. The money was paid as a widow's pension payment into a joint bank account held by Butler and her grandmother, Emma Henderson, who died in February 2006.

But she went on claiming the pension until April 2011.

Butler denied five counts of fraud and one of theft but was convicted on June 23 following a trial at Huntingdon Crown Court.

In mitigation, Ben Peers described his client as emotionally immature for her years and said she had a number of health problems. The court heard that Butler had repaid most of the money, using proceeds from the sale of her mother's house, but she still owed nearly £10,000.

Judge Patrick Moloney, who sentenced her to 18 months in jail, said: "I remember the jury in this case who heard all the evidence, all the explanations and excuses you put up to justify your actions, and who did not believe a word of it.

"The jury heard your explanations but found them as incredible, as I do. At the end of the day what I have heard is somebody who has received large sums of money from her friends, has simply withheld them, spent them and provided nothing in return."