Two brothers were TODAY found guilty of misleading thousands of families to rake in £1.2million running a failed Christmas winter wonderland attraction.
Victor and Henry Mears
Victor and Henry Mears charged customers up to £30 for entry into the New Forest Lapland at Matchams Leisure Park on the Hampshire-Dorset border in 2008.
They promised a ”magical” Lapland experience – with their website showing scenes of snowy icicles, real log cabins, husky dogs, an ice rink and a bustling Christmas market.
But instead, prosecutors claim devastated families turned up to find a muddy field offering ”woeful” and broken attractions.
During a 10-week trial at Bristol Crown Court the brothers argued that problems with the attraction were exaggerated and they were the victim of media ‘lies’.
But the jury took just seven hours to find them guilty of placing misleading adverts on the firm’s website, in three local papers and in flyers advertising the park.
They were warned they could be jailed when they are sentenced on March 18.
Judge Mark Horton said the brothers ”delivered misery by way of disappointment to thousands of people”.
The court heard how Victor, 67, and Henry, 60, opened Lapland New Forest on November 30 2008.
Around 10,000 people had purchased tickets for the winter wonderland – making an estimated £1.2million for Lapland New Forest Ltd, of which Victor Mears was director and brother Henry was manager.
But complaints began pouring in to Dorset County Council’s trading standards team on December 1, the day after it opened.
They investigated, finding statements on Lapland’s website promising ”beautiful snow covered log cabins”, ”delicious seasonal food” and a ”wonderful ice rink”.
Families were lead to believe they would be viewing ”santa’s amazing snow covered village near Lapland”.
Their website read: ”The attention to detail in our theme park will really wow you.”
A flyer for Lapland New Forest also claimed to offer ticket-holders the chance to view donkeys, reindeers and even a polar bear.
During the trial, the court heard trading standards took pictures of the park following customer complaints – comparing them to Lapland’s website, flyers and newspaper ads.
They found the ”magical tunnel of light” was fairy lights strung from trees and the ”wonderful” ice rink was broken.
The advertised ”delicious seasonal food” at the Christmas market was discovered to be two stands offering pork and stuffing baguettes and German sausages, it was said.
On December 4 2008, after negative publicity and scores of complaints about Lapland New Forest, bank support helping to fund the facility was pulled.
The park then ceased trading and went into liquidation.
The brothers, both from Brighton, claimed the problems were ”external rather than internal” and they had been victim of media ‘lies’.
They were found guilty of eight charges of engaging in a commercial practice which was a misleading action.
Addressing Mr Rossano Scarmardella, defending Henry Mears, Judge Mark Horton said: ”In this case the jury found your client and Mr Victor Mears had promised by deceit to satisfy and had delivered misery by way of disappointment to thousands of people.
”I’m bound to say this court is considering whether a term of imprisonment must follow.”
The court heard that Victor had five previous convictions for 13 offences including obtaining money by deception and fraud, stretching back to 1983. Henry had no relevant convictions.
They were granted bail and refused to comment as they left court.