TWO brothers who duped thousands of customers into visiting what a judge has branded a “rip-off” Lapland-style theme park have both 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”.
However, Dorset Trading Standards prosecuted the brothers under consumer protection laws.
Victor, of Selsfield Drive, and Henry, of Coombe Road, both in Brighton, denied eight charges of misleading advertising but they were found guilty in February on all counts at Bristol Crown Court.
Jailing the pair yesterday, Judge Mark Horton said the Mears brothers had promised a winter wonderland but delivered a “con and a rip-off” – likening the theme park to a car boot sale.
With visitors charged £30 a ticket and up to 10,000 advance bookings online, the Mears brothers were set to gross £1.2m.
They advertised the theme park on its own website, in local newspapers and with flyers.
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, Hants.
Both brothers were also disqualified from being company directors for five years. They showed no emotion as they were led away from the dock to begin their sentences.
The court was told that financial investigators could not find any assets belonging to the brothers. A hearing to decide the amount they would pay towards the costs of bringing the trial – said by the prosecution to be over £100,0000 – will be held at a later date.