Brothers jailed for Lapland con
Two brothers who conned thousands of customers into visiting what they claimed was a Lapland-style theme park have each been jailed for 13 months.
Victor Mears, 67, and Henry Mears, 60, offered visitors 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, disappointed families found a muddy field, a broken ice rink and fairy lights hung from trees. Within days of the Lapland New Forest attraction opening in November 2008, hundreds of disgruntled visitors complained to trading standards officials that they had been ripped off.
Less than a week later, the attraction closed, with the brothers blaming the media and sabotage by "New Forest villains" for the decision. Dorset Trading Standards prosecuted the brothers under consumer protection laws.
Victor, of Selsfield Drive, and Henry, of Coombe Road, both Brighton, denied eight charges of misleading advertising but they were found guilty in February on all counts at Bristol Crown Court.
With visitors charged £30 a ticket and up to 10,000 advance bookings online, some for multiple tickets and worth hundreds of pounds each, the Mears brothers were set to gross £1.2 million. 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." People travelled from as far as west Wales, the Midlands and the south-east of England to visit the "attraction" at Matchams Leisure Park, near Ringwood, Hampshire.
Victor Mears told the court: "I showed due diligence. I did everything I could to account for everything." Henry Mears told jurors the attraction was everything they promised customers it would be. "Whatever you do, you will find the public complain about something," he added.
Jailing the pair, Judge Mark Horton said: "You told consumers that it would light up those who most loved Christmas. You said you would go through the magical tunnel of light coming out in a winter wonderland. What you actually provided was something that looked like an averagely-managed summer car boot sale."