A HARD-WORKING couple booked their first holiday in 15 years, only to have it scuppered at the last minute when officials refused to renew a passport.

Peter and Caroline Gray, from Darlington, were due to travel to Portugal on Thursday (May 8) to celebrate Mrs Gray’s birthday.

They have now had to abandon their plans and stand to lose more than £1,000 after their request to renew Mrs Gray’s passport was turned down by staff at the passport office in Durham.

The couple travelled to the passport office on Tuesday, May 6 to have their documents renewed on the spot as they had been unable to afford to apply earlier.

A member of staff told Mrs Gray her passport could not be renewed there as it appeared damaged and could have been tampered with.

However, the document had only been used once before and – aside from a small sign of wear on the photograph page – showed no visible damage.

A tearful Mrs Gray said: “We made an appointment to use the fast-track service after explaining our situation and were not told anything about damaged passports not being renewed.

“I couldn’t believe it, it doesn’t look damaged and why would I tamper with a passport and then take it to the passport office to be renewed?

“Now we won’t be able to go on holiday, the insurance probably won’t cover this and we will lose more than £1,000 but it’s not about the money – it’s the first holiday we have had together in 15 years. I’m about ready for a breakdown.”

Self-employed mechanic Mr Gray added: “It’s absolutely disgusting. I showed the passport to about a dozen people and none of them could spot the supposed damage.

“We tried to explain to the staff but they just told us there was nothing they could do, it is down to the individual to decide if the passport is damaged, there are no strict guidelines apparently.”

A spokesperson for Her Majesty’s Passport Office said: “If a passport is damaged, further security checks are required before a new passport can be issued.

“The quickest service we offer to replace a damaged passport is the one week Fast Track service to allow additional checks to be made.

“A passport will only be issued once all background checks have been successfully completed and we remind customers not to book travel until they have received their passport.”