A GROUP of 52 Chester school-children was embroiled in a UK "scam" that left 350 football fans without World Cup tickets.
Pupils at King's School travelled to Cologne thinking they had seats at the weekend's Czech Republic v Ghana game, organised by a school tour operator. After a 15-hour coach ride, they were told their £400 tickets were not available because of the alleged fraud.
But after hours of negotiating new tickets, the school managed to get the 12 and 13 year olds into the match.
Neil Benson, the father of two boys in the party, said: "On the Friday night they were going to Cologne and we heard there had been a change of plan. They were told they would be going to see the Portugal v Iran game in Frankfurt instead.
"It was then that alarm bells started ringing - Frankfurt is a couple of hours' drive away and we thought it seemed a bit strange.
"After that, we heard one or two parents had received phone calls from the boys saying they had been told they wouldn't be able to see the game at all.
"The boys were very upset. They were really keyed as it was going to be a great experience. It seemed it was a 15-hour drive each way for nothing."
Mr Benson said the children eventually got in to the Czech Republic v Ghana match after the school found tickets at the last minute.
He added: "It's great they got in, but it must be incredibly disappointing for schools that didn't."
An international police investigation was under way last night after tour operator Activ4 discovered the alleged scam hours before the game. The Shrewsbury company, which specialises in school trips, was notified by its bank of irregularities and found its supplier, Tickets For All, had failed to provide the tickets.
Kent Police and their counterparts in Germany launched probes into the dealings of Tickets For All.
Its website - which gives an address in Swanley, Kent - was last night still advertising tickets, including those for the World Cup final at up to £2,900.
As hundreds of children, aged 11 to 16, returned yesterday morning after missing out on seeing the matches, Tony Blair said the Government would try to get them back to Germany.
Asked what he could do to help by a caller to Radio Five Live's 606 programme, Mr Blair said: "We are looking at that and I think the Sports Minister Richard Cabornis trying to sort something out.
"I don't know what exactly can be done but obviously for them it's terrible and it's something we need to work on to make sure they can get out there."
He added: "Usually there is a very strict boundary (between sport and government) but on something like this we will try to do what we can to help." An Activ4 spokesman said it had understood Tickets For All was accredited to Fifa but now believed it had fallen victim to a scam.
He added: "It is with great regret that our business and therefore our customers have been made victim of an international ticket scam for the Fifa World Cup 2006.
"Activ4 is outraged by this callous act of fraud and will continue to offer the police our full co-operation in their respective investigations."
He said about 350 children had paid between £379 and £399 for the complete tour package to Germany. Fifa spokesman Andreas Herrensaid that the only official ticket outlets were the association's website and its member associations.
He added: "This is absolutely regrettable for the young kids because they have been deprived of a great opportunity to watch World Cup action.
"We have issued warnings to only buy tickets from our website or member associations or some- one appointed by them - every- one else must be considered to be dubious."