Brothers accused of running rip-off festive theme park

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The Independent Online

Visitors flocking to a winter wonderland theme park billed as having huskies, polar bears, and snow-covered log cabins were shocked to find little more than fairy lights and a broken ice-rink, a court heard.

Hundreds of disgruntled ticket-holders complained to trading standards that they had been ripped off and the Lapland New Forest theme park on the Hampshire and Dorset border closed within days of opening.

The men behind the venture, the brothers Victor and Henry Mears, would have made up to £1.2m had all gone to plan, a jury was told, but instead they are accused of misleading advertising. Malcolm Gibney, for the prosecution, told Bristol Crown Court that tickets to the theme park cost £30 each and that there had been 10,000 advance bookings after it was advertised in 2008.

"The website promised a festive scene. It was described as being a winter wonderland," he said. Visitors travelled from as far away as West Wales and the Midlands. Mr Gibney said: "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 who spent a lot of money on what they hoped would be a wonderful Christmas treat."

The brothers, from Brighton, deny 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.

Lapland New Forest opened on the weekend of 30 November, 2008 and by 1 December a series of complaints had been made to Dorset Trading Standards. Three days later the park shut.

When two trading standards officers visited the park they muddy fields, the "lightest possible dusting of snow" on the log cabins, two food stalls instead of a bustling market, a faulty ice rink and fairy lights strung over trees in what was supposed to be a "magical tunnel of light".

Peter Bacon, of Southampton, paid £310 for 14 members of his family to see Lapland and told the court: "I was just hurt. It was a big disappointment."

The trial continues.