Brothers 'could have made £1m from Lapland theme park'

Two brothers could have made more than £1 million by misleading thousands of customers into visiting a Lapland-style theme park, a court heard today.

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.

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 they had been ripped off, Bristol Crown Court heard.

Less than a week later the attraction closed, with the theme park's owners blaming the media and sabotage from "New Forest villains" for the decision.

With visitors charged 30 a ticket and with up to 10,000 advance bookings online, the owners were set to make 1.2 million, prosecutor Malcolm Gibney told the court.

The two men behind Lapland New Forest, brothers Victor and Henry Mears, faced a jury today accused of eight charges of selling misleading advertising.

Opening the prosecution case, Mr Gibney said the brothers advertised the attraction on the theme park's own website, in newspaper adverts and with flyers - with the aim of attracting as many visitors as possible.

"The website promised a festive scene and set out what sort of things there would be available to see, if they were in attendance," the prosecutor said.

"It was described as being a winter wonderland.

"The event opened on the weekend of November 30 and by the following Monday, December 1, 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 Lapland'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.

"It closed on December 4 and the company behind it, Lapland UK Ltd, went into liquidation."

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, 67, of Selsfield Drive, and Henry Mears, 60, of Coombe Road, both Brighton, Sussex, 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 who was responsible for the promotion of the event.

"We say as a result of the 'consent, connivance or neglect' of both these defendants that these offences took place," Mr Gibney said.

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