By Alison Smith Squire
When Mark Tovey was told he was dying from cancer, it was devastating enough.
A government civil servant, he had just returned from war-torn Afghanistan - and he and fiancée Tricia were due to marry.
But after doctors warned Mr Tovey, 49, might not be alive to go on their honeymoon in February next year, the couple were forced to cancel – only to be slapped with fees of almost £2,000.
Mark and Tricia Tovey moved their wedding forward after learning he was terminally ill
And incredibly, when they queried the cancellation charges, they were threatened with legal action – for taking too long to pay up.
'We’re shocked any holiday company can be so cruel and show so little compassion,' said Mrs Tovey, 53, a nurse, last night, 'It’s not as if we were cancelling at short notice or even that we don’t have a good reason not to go.
'Mark’s hospital consultant even wrote a letter begging the holiday company to be sympathetic and to waive the charges. But that was just ignored.
'Mark’s diagnosis has been such a terrible bombshell. And to be hit with this has made everything even more upsetting.'
The couple, from Gloucester, first booked their £6,500 honeymoon to the luxury five star Secrets Miroma Beach hotel in Cancun, Mexico through The Holiday Collection Group last November.
'I never thought I’d ever fall in love with anyone again,' recalls Mrs Tovey, who was widowed with four children in 2004 when her first husband, Fred, 56, died suddenly from a blood clot, 'but 18 months ago I plucked up the courage to try dating online and got chatting to Mark.
'We’d only been emailing and chatting on the phone for two weeks. But as soon as we met up, it was as if we’d known one another all our lives.'
They were initially told they would have to pay £1,984 but eventually their holiday company agreed to an ex-gratia refund of £1285.15
During a holiday in Dubai in October 2010, Mr Tovey, a divorcee, proposed.
Mrs Tovey said: 'I was thrilled. Mark was coming to the end of his spell in Afghanistan and we both knew we wanted to spend the rest of our lives together.'
The couple set the date for their wedding and two week honeymoon for February 2012.
'The honeymoon was to be the trip of a lifetime. With its amazing infinity pool, twelve smaller swimming pools, gourmet restaurants and white sand beach, Mark and I simply couldn’t wait to go,' added Mrs Tovey.
But shortly before Mr Tovey returned from Afghanistan in January, he’d noticed he needed to go to the toilet more than usual.
'His GP thought it was just an infection,' said Mrs Tovey, whose children are now aged between 23 and 29, 'but when a fortnight after tablet treatment he wasn’t better, he had a blood test'.
The results came as a bombshell. Mr Tovey, who’d always been healthy, had advanced prostate cancer. Worse, further scans in March confirmed the cancer had spread to his lymph glands and bones.
'It was dreadful when the consultant said there was nothing they could do. And when Mark quietly asked, "how long?" and he replied, "around 18 months" it was absolutely heartbreaking.'
The couple wanted to go to Cancun in Mexico for their honeymoon but were told by doctors that it was unlikely Mr Tovey would be make it
Following the bleak prognosis, the couple brought their wedding forward, poignantly exchanging their vows in a hotel ceremony in June.
Mrs Tovey said: 'The reality was doctors weren’t only concerned Mark might not be well enough to go through with the ceremony, he might not even be alive then. We had no choice but to cancel our honeymoon.'
However, after cancelling their holiday in May, they were stunned to receive a letter from The Holiday Collection Group saying in accordance with their terms and conditions they also had to pay a cancellation fee, which worked out at £1285.15.
Mr Tovey said: 'We accepted we would lose our £500 deposit I paid when we booked but had no idea we would have to pay such a hefty fee.
'As well as having our consultant write to the company, we also asked if we could transfer to another holiday to go on now while I am still well enough to travel. But they just ignored our request and our consultant’s letter.'
Five days after their wedding in June, they were sent another letter from the company saying on top of the fees owed, they would be charged an additional £199.00 'non response' charge – a total bill of £1984.15.
The letter added: 'If you do not comply with this final request… our legal department will deal accordingly.'
Mrs Tovey said: 'It was a menacing letter and the thought of legal action was particularly frightening, especially as we’ve never not paid a bill in our lives.'
Because of this, as well as forfeiting their £500 deposit, the couple have since settled the £1285.15 bill. 'It was a lot of money but we couldn’t face the threat of legal action hanging over us,' she added.
'However, we are still astonished at the way we’ve been treated.'
A spokeswoman for The Global Travel Group trading as Holiday Collection Group said last night: 'Mrs Tovey agreed at the time of booking to take out travel insurance. Clearly travel insurance is vital and had this been taken out, Mrs Tovey would have been able to make a claim in this regard.
'We did everything possible to assist the couple and try to secure an alternative holiday. However, as a gesture of goodwill we are prepared to make an ex-gratia refund in respect of the cancellation costs of £1285.15.'