Two strangers whose passports were switched by bungling customs staff were reunited with their documents months later – after discovering they lived just miles apart.
Pam Wilkinson, 78, and Clifford Bunt, 75, were able to fly back to the UK from Dubai on each other’s passports and were totally unaware of the mix-up.
Shocked Pam only realised the error months later when she was blocked boarding a flight to Turkey at Gatwick Airport – when staff looked at her passport.
She had no choice but to return home to Newquay, Cornwall, but then set about trying to track down the man whose passport she had been given.
This week the stunned pair were reunited with their passports -after she astonishingly discovered he lived just down the road from her in St Austell.
Pam said: “I handed my passport over to board the plane to Turkey but they said they couldn’t accept it. They told me it was a man’s passport.
“I said, ‘what do you mean?’ It can’t be a man’s passport. But then I opened it up and sure enough there was a picture of a man.
“He was called Clifford Bunt, and he was from St Austell. I just couldn’t believe it.”
Pam, who had travelled more than 250 miles on a late-night coach to make her flight missed her holiday but spent the time playing detective.
The next day she decided to track down the passport’s real owner.
She said: “All I knew was that he was from St Austell, that he’d been to Australia, and that he’d travelled back to Heathrow from Dubai on the same flight as me on March 3.
“I thought that if I had his passport, there was a chance he might have mine.
“I didn’t hold out much hope of finding him though.
“It’s unbelievable really. I do feel a bit silly that I didn’t check, but I suppose when they hand your passport back to you expect it to actually be your passport. I’ll certainly be checking from now on.”
In a last ditch bid to track down Clifford, Pam enlisted the help of local paper the Cornish Guardian who eventually managed to find him through the St Austell Golf Club.
Cliff said: “When you called me I went to check and sure enough, it was hers.
“I can hardly believe it. I was amazed because I instantly remembered her.
“We were on the same flight from Dubai and we got chatting. My wife and I had been out to Australia to visit our grandchildren – we even had a coffee together.
“But how I got her passport I don’t know. We were behind each other in the queue off the plane. The chap at the desk must have given it to me by mistake; that’s the only way it could have happened.
“I think there was a real sense of relief, and some regret that Pam missed her holiday, which is a shame but not her fault. After all, who checks their passport when they hand it back to you?”
A Home Office spokesman said the circumstances behind the mix-up would be investigated this week.