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Lanarkshire Wedding Planners Vanish
Scores of couples have been left distraught after a Scottish wedding planning service mysteriously closed its doors after taking their cash.
The couples have had their big day plunged into chaos after hiring Happy Talk Events, based in Glasgow city centre, to provide everything from decorations to entertainment and cakes.
Despite the company, owned by Michelle McMorris and her husband Alistair, taking cash bookings as recently as last week, their shop has shut up without any notice while online and social media accounts related to the suppliers have vanished.
Kristina Allan, from Wishaw, should be excitedly arranging the finishing touches to her summer 2017 wedding to fiancee James Loughran, instead, she has lost hundreds of pounds and left with no idea where to turn.
The 28-year-old explained how she decided to book the full package offered by Happy Talk and had encountered no problems - until she saw Facebook posts at the weekend from several others who had been left in the lurch.
She said: "We booked with them in January of this year and paid them £750 at the time.
"It had been fine but then I saw people saying they were going bust. I messaged the owner, Michelle, but she said everything was fine and lawyers were dealing with it. She even said I could go and see her next week.
"But then I saw their website and Facebook was down, and I couldn't get in touch with them, so that was it.
Determined to get to the bottom of the claims, Kristina tracked down the McMorris' home in Wishaw, North Lanarkshire, only to be told by neighbours that they had upped sticks to America four weeks ago.
In fact, a business website shows Michelle is linked to Happy Talk Event Solutions, which is run from a shopping mall in Orlando, Florida.
Kristina added: "I know they are in Florida, we were told about their business. While Michelle was in touch with me she wasn't even in the country.
"My bank won't refund me, and neither will the insurance company, because they need proof. We don't just have another £750 to book another company - we're snookered, and we are so angry.
"They knew they were doing this - it's sickening. It takes more than a couple of months to emigrate. They willingly took the money knowing there was no way they were going to be able to fulfil the deal - it's fraud, and so many people have been affected.
Others who have had their dreams left in tatters have told stories of being let down hours before their nuptials, or turning up at their venue to be met with the wrong products.
And, someone who knows the desperation they are feeling all too well is groom-to-be James, who has been thrown into a nightmare scenario just eight weeks before he marries his partner Emma.
The pair, from Millerston, who will be tying the knot at Ingliston Country Club, had spoken to staff just days ago to finalise arrangements, but are now faced with losing £1,500.
James, who asked that his surname not be used, said: "Everything was fine - we made a payment on Friday, and was supposed to see them next weekend or the weekend after, but now I hear they are closed down.
"They had been advertising offers on their decorations, which I felt was strange, but now I can see that was a way of getting people to pay more money in.
"We are already over budget for our wedding and it is in such a short amount of time. We ordered chair covers, thrones, everything. We haven't slept and are just devastated.
"We can't believe it. Michelle had been open about her plans to go to America but assured us it would have no impact on things here. It has all been planned out and well-timed."
With employees thought to be left dealing with the fall-out while being in the dark over their own futures, disgruntled people have flocked to the Howard Street shop to get answers, but say they feel they have to pick up the pieces without explanation.
Paul McGinty and Natalie Daly, who live in Blantyre, booked services - including furniture - for their ceremony next June. Now £500 out of pocket, 29-year old Paul said the whole experience has soured his faith and will mean he is more cautious in future.
He commented: "It's a lot of money and it's infuriating that somebody can get away with doing this. Having our own business, we are in not too bad a position - there will have been people saving for years and who are in a worse position than us.
"I know I will be much more careful in future - companies will be told they will not be getting the full amount of money until much nearer our wedding, and that is what this has taught me."
Another bride-to-be who asked not to be named said, "I am £1000 out of pocket but I paid on my credit card so I hope I will be covered. I realised something was wrong when I was later offered £350 worth of vouchers off my bill if I paid out £250. Clearly they wanted to get more money in. They were still taking money in until as late as last Friday or Saturday and Michelle was messaging folk like me saying there was nothing to worry about.
"Then suddenly when the rumours started emerging that the shop was about to close all of the means of contacting the shop - the phone line, the website and Michelle's private Facebook account that she had been messaging folk from all suddenly went dead.
"My partner has been up to the shop but it was closed. We have enough time before our wedding to make alternative arrangements but I feel so sorry for other folk who have no alternative."
Neither Michelle McMorris nor her husband Alistair could be contacted for comment.
The pair have completely cut off all means of contact with angry customers desperate to know what has happened to their cash.
They are now thought to have escaped to a sunshine second property in Orlando after disappearing from their home in Wishaw, at short notice.
And Michelle's mum, Cathy Smith, 72, said the devastation her daughter has caused is no surprise to her.
Cathy, a business owner herself, has been estranged from her for more than a decade after a rift tore through their family because of the McMorrises thirst for the good life - at any cost
She said: "I didn't bring Michelle up to be like this. She was my one and only child and has changed. It's all about money. I haven't spoken to her for at least 13 years.
"I'm not shocked by this because she hurt me so much. She took my granddaughter, Erin, away from me. I do miss Michelle but I don't know who she is anymore. It's heartbreaking.
"I have been ill for several years and I'm sure it's down to the stress caused by what has happened."
She claimed: "This has been going on since they had their first shop in Hamilton many years ago. They were doing well, but he [Alastair] wanted more, so they ended up with another shop, which wasn't suitable.
"They moved on, and that's when things went wrong, because rent and everything else was too much for them, but Michelle would still buy every designer bag and I didn't know where she was getting the money from.
"Around 2003, my granddaughter told me they were going to live in America, Michelle didn't even let me know. She didn't have the guts. But the next thing I know they were opening a shop in Ayr. They went down there and they did the same thing as they have now with that shop, which was also Happy Talk. It wasn't right. I tried to get them not to go in the first place but that just meant they didn't speak to me and they ended up selling that store to her cousin, who took it on not knowing how much debt was involved."
Just months later, Cathy said, there was more heartbreak in the wake of a trip Michelle made to America. Cathy claims she soon discovered her daughter had fraudulently used her bank account to run up a hefty bill.
Describing the betrayal and the hurt that caused the permanent break-up of her family unit, she added: "They went to Florida on a holiday visa. They said they built a house and had a business, but it was just pure lies. Then we had a fall-out because when they came back I got a bill of thousands on my card.
"I hadn't used it, but I found out the company that was owed was based in America. Michelle had used my card, and the total run up was £8,000. She knew the details because I had bailed her out before. I didn't give permission, it was fraud and caused an absolute rift."
That was the last time that Cathy spoke to Michelle and her biggest sadness comes from the distance that has grown between her and Erin, 22.
Reflecting on how they once shared a very close bond, she revealed that relations had soured so much that, at one point, she received a letter saying Michelle didn't want her to have contact with her grandchild.
"I just feel sorry for Erin because she's been taken away and cut off from me. I used to see her all the time," Cathy said.
Although Cathy admits it has been incredibly difficult to speak out about a part of her life that is so personal, she is adamant that, as more and more people are affected and others try to pick up the pieces, "now it is time to tell the truth".
"They lost every penny they had. It's all lies - Michelle said she had a heart attack, but she hasn't. Alistair manipulates her in every way, but I don't know if her staff in the latest shop knew that. I've had private detectives at my house," the pensioner added.
"They left thousands of pounds worth of debt and thought they could just walk away from it. They just take opportunities and don't think about anybody else. You can't do that. It's fraud.
"I admire the people left at the shop who are trying to help. I cried when I saw the story but it wasn't for Michelle, it was for the people decent enough to do something."