Lapland New Forest: Brothers Guilty
Two brothers have been convicted of misleading thousands of customers into visiting what they claimed was a Lapland-style theme park near Ringwood.
Victor and Henry Mears were found guilty by a jury at Bristol Crown Court following a two-month trial of five charges of engaging in a commercial practice which was a misleading action.
The jury are still deliberating on a further three counts of engaging in a commercial practice which is a misleading omission.
The brothers, of Brighton, Sussex, could have made more than £1 million from up to 10,000 advanced ticket sales for the Lapland New Forest theme park.
Visitors 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.
But instead of the promised magical festive treat, visitors experienced fairy lights hung from trees and a broken ice rink.
Within days of the attraction opening in November 2008, hundreds of disgruntled visitors to the park on the Hampshire-Dorset border 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.
Victor Mears was the company's sole director but was being assisted by his younger brother, who was managing Lapland and who was responsible for the promotion of the event.
They advertised the theme park on its own website, in local newspapers and with flyers.
The eye-catching website offered a "snow-covered village near Bournemouth'' with a "magical tunnel of light'', "beautiful snow-covered log cabins'', a "bustling Christmas market'', "wonderful ice rink'' and "delicious hot and cold seasonal food''.
In bold, the website stated: "The attention to detail of our theme park will truly wow you.''
It also boasted: "As our show is being staged for the first time, our website can only begin to hint at our wonderland.''
Flyers for the theme park promised: "Lapland New Forest where dreams really do come true. Lapland has come to Dorset.''
People travelled from as far as West Wales, the Midlands and the south east of England to visit the theme park at Matchams Leisure Park, near Ringwood, Hants.
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 also faulty, which the Mears brothers blamed on sabotage.
Instead of a "magical tunnel of light'' there were fairy lights strung across trees.
Within days of Lapland New Forest opening, thousands of people had complained to Dorset Trading Standards.
The theme park featured in national newspapers and on television with reports of fights between disgruntled customers and staff.
Within a week, Lapland New Forest had closed and the company behind it had gone into liquidation.
Prosecutor Malcolm Gibney said of customers at the start of the trial:
"Some of them travelled many, many miles and they told of their utter disappointment at what they saw, and their anger.
"The only feeling of 'wow' that many of the consumers felt was 'wow, what a con'.
"There were a lot of families with young children that spent a lot of money on what they hoped would be a wonderful Christmas treat.''
Tickets, which were purchased in advance online, were priced at £30 each but were reduced to £25 if four were bought. Children under two were charged £10.
The outdoor ice rink cost another £5 for skate hire and there was a charge of £5 for posting tickets bought online.
During the trial the prosecution called several disgruntled customers, who spoke of their shock and sadness at being ripped off.