Dorset

New Forest Lapland park owners 'could have made £1m'

Victor (left) and Henry Mears
Image caption Brothers Victor (left) and Henry Mears deny all the charges against them

A Lapland park promised a winter wonderland but visitors instead found fairy lights strewn across trees and a broken ice rink, a court has heard.

Brothers Victor Mears, 67, and Henry Mears, 60, deny misleading thousands of customers into visiting the Lapland New Forest attraction.

The theme park closed after a few days in the run-up to Christmas 2008 following hundreds of complaints.

The court heard the brothers, from Brighton, may have made more than £1m.

With visitors charged £30 a ticket and with up to 10,000 advance bookings online, the brothers were set to make £1.2m, prosecutor Malcolm Gibney told Bristol Crown Court.

Mr Gibney said they advertised the attraction, in Matchams on the Hampshire-Dorset border, on the theme park's own website, in newspaper adverts and with flyers - with the aim of attracting as many visitors as possible.

But he told the court many visitors were not happy with the promised snow-covered log cabins, a nativity scene, husky dogs, polar bears and other animals, as well as a bustling Christmas market.

'New Forest villains'

"It was described as being a winter wonderland," Mr Gibney said.

"The event opened on the weekend of 30 November and by the following Monday complaints were flowing into Dorset Trading Standards.

"In particular the complaints were that the event did not meet the description set out on the website and the various forms of advertising material."

Mr Gibney said changes were made to the attraction's website but still the complaints flowed.

"It is fair to say that the theme park attracted a lot of negative publicity and in the event it closed within a less than a week of opening," he told jurors.

Victor Mears blamed the media and sabotage from "New Forest villains" for the decision.

But Mr Gibney said: "The only feeling of 'wow' that many of the consumers felt was 'wow, what a con'."

Following complaints two trading standards officers visited the theme park but found things a little different from what was on the attraction's website, jurors heard.

Image caption The park shut after a few days in the lead up to Christmas 2008

Instead of a "bustling Christmas market" they found two food stalls selling German sausages and a choice of turkey or pork and stuffing baguettes.

The ice rink was faulty and instead of a "magical tunnel of light" the officers found fairy lights strung across trees.

"The officers, having compared the website to what they saw on the ground, were concerned," Mr Gibney said.

"They did not believe the description on the website or on the flyers reflected what the public were buying into."

'Duped'

The court also heard from visitors who said what they saw at the theme park did not match their expectations.

Thomas Parham, from Crewkerne, Somerset, said he spent £150 on tickets to take his wife, her parents and their two young children to Lapland on the first weekend it opened after seeing a "very elaborate" advert in his local newspaper.

He said: "It seemed like a wonderful day out for the whole family.

"We drove down this pot-holed lane, it was rather dilapidated, with some scrap cars in a pile down the side."

He said there was a lot of mud at the park and he described the log cabins as "garden sheds".

"On the roofs of the sheds were white polystyrene slabs with a dusting of snow on the top," he said.

Image caption Thomas Parham brought his family to Lapland New Forest after seeing an ad in a local newspaper

He described the promised polar bear as a "poor plastic representation which didn't fool my six-year-old for a second".

"We were saddened. The children were disappointed and we felt we had been duped."

Another disappointed visitor, Peter Bacon, from Southampton, told the court he paid £310 for 14 members of his family to see Lapland.

He said: "I was just hurt really. I brought my family from all over the country to see something like that."

The company behind the theme park, Lapland Newforest Ltd, went into liquidation, the court heard.

The brothers face five charges of engaging in a commercial practice which is a misleading action and three charges of engaging in a commercial practice which is a misleading omission.

Victor Mears, of Selsfield Drive, and Henry Mears, of Coombe Road, deny all the charges.

The court heard that Victor Mears was the company's sole director but was being assisted by his younger brother, who was managing Lapland and was responsible for the promotion of the park.

The trial continues.

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