Friday, February 18, 2011
Lapland brothers guilty of misleading customers
Two brothers have been found guilty of misleading thousands of customers at a Lapland-themed park.
Victor Mears, 67, and Henry Mears, 60, operated Lapland New Forest at Matchams Park on the Hampshire-Dorset border in 2008 before it closed.
A jury at Bristol Crown Court found both men guilty on eight counts of misleading advertising.
The men, both from Brighton, had denied the charges. They will be sentenced at a later date.
The trial has heard Victor Mears, of Selsfield Drive, and Henry Mears, of Coombe Road, could have made more than £1m from up to 10,000 advanced ticket sales.
The brothers were earlier found guilty of five charges of engaging in a commercial practice which is a misleading action under the Unfair Trading Regulations 2008.
The jury decided they had misled customers with adverts on the firm's website, in three local newspapers and in advertising flyers.
Henry Mears said, in his opinion, the park was everything the brothers promised it would be
Jurors continued to deliberate on three charges of engaging in a commercial practice which is a misleading omission and returned guilty verdicts during the afternoon.
These charges related to accusations the brothers failed to tell customers there was an extra charge for ice skating.
Visitors to Lapland New Forest were offered a "winter wonderland" with snow-covered log cabins, a nativity scene, husky dogs, polar bears and other animals, as well as a bustling Christmas market, the court was told.
Within days of opening, hundreds of disgruntled visitors complained to trading standards officials that they had been ripped off.
Less than a week later the attraction closed, with its owners blaming the media and sabotage by "New Forest villains" for the decision.
There have been a series of delays in the trial due to Victor Mears' health.
He has in the past undergone an operation for cancer, but doctors ruled he was fit enough to continue.
Victor Mears admitted to the court he took a "bit of a gamble" in setting up Lapland New Forest without investing any money but he said he believed the money would come in as people bought tickets.
He also claimed he had been bullied and harassed by staff and, because of illness, he had handed over the running of the theme park to his son and brother.
Henry Mears told jurors his role was to organise the advertising and co-ordinate the theme park's website but he said he later took on more of a managerial role.
Victor Mears said he took a 'bit of a gamble' setting up Lapland New Forest without investing any money
He was to receive 10% of ticket sales but said a £100,000 cheque given to him by his brother Victor bounced, the court heard.
"Victor's idea was to do the ultimate Christmas grotto, outside as opposed to inside," he told the court.
He admitted the photographs on the website were not of Lapland New Forest.
"It was showing the Christmas spirit to good-minded people," he said.
He said that, in his opinion, the attraction was everything they promised customers it would be.
Henry Mears added: "Whatever you do, you will find the public complain about something."