A BUSINESSMAN from Ellesmere Port has been charged with a £4.5m hotel booking fraud.

Alan Ennis, 41, is accused of making fake hotel bookings to gain commission of more than £300,000.

Ennis, of Bailey Avenue, is alleged to have made up £4.5m-worth of bookings for non-existent guests and then invoiced the Thistle Hotel chain for his share over a three-year period.

He denies the charges. Ennis was director of Travelogue (UK) Ltd, which booked hotel rooms for companies from its base in the Berkshire market town of Newbury.

The company has since gone into liquidation.

He is accused of exploiting an obscure loophole which saw the chain paying him commission on bookings when no guest turned up. The travel industry has since tightened its rules.

He is facing trial at Reading Crown Court, where he has denied 35 counts of obtaining a money transfer by deception, one of attempting to obtain a money transfer by deception and 36 counts of false accounting.

The offences are alleged to have taken place between October 1998 and December 2001.

He was arrested on February 27 in Newbury by officers from Thames Valley Police's Fraud Squad after the Thistle Hotel Chain became concerned over irregularities.

All the charges of false accounting are alleged to have taken place on the same day.

He appeared in a blue shirt and beige trousers at his plea and directions hearing at Reading Crown Court.

The trial is expected to last for 12 days and was fixed for November. Ennis remains on unconditional bail until his trial.

The Thistle Hotel Group has 55 four-star hotels throughout Britain.