A FATHER and son who own a chain of pubs have been hit with a record fine after becoming the first people to be prosecuted over illegally showing Premier League football via the internet.
Alister and Charles Darroch beamed games into 11 pubs in Hull for six months during the 2009/10 season when Hull City were still in the top flight.
The pair accessed the games via a North African TV station over the internet instead of using a foreign satellite decoder card – avoiding paying £119,000 that should have gone to BSkyB.
Investigators sent them 40 warning letters after covert officers saw the matches, but the pair ignored them.
Police then raided the pubs and seized computer equipment.
The Darrochs have now been fined £33,000 each – £3,000 for each pub where the games were illegally screened – and must each pay court costs of £25,067.
The total bill of more than £116,000 is the largest penalty ever imposed in a case involving illegally screened football.
Their barrister argued that the case of Portsmouth landlady Karen Murphy – who insists the EU should allow her to screen matches from European TV stations – affected their case.
But Hull Magistrates Court rejected this as the Darrochs used the internet to show games rather than a decoder.
The court heard how Media Protection Services Ltd (MPS) launched a covert operation against the Darrochs’ pubs.
They returned to issue a warning in person and then sent dozens of letters but to no effect.
District Judge Fred Rutherford said it “beggared belief” that they took no notice of the letters and said their crimes had given them a “significant advantage” over other pubs in the area.
He added: “The defendants obviously did not care about the pubs screening Sky matches legitimately, which is why the penalties are so severe.
“It was simply convenience for both defendants to hide behind the advice of the suppliers of the internet streaming equipment and to ignore all the warnings that they had been given.”
Ray Hoskin, managing director of MPS, said: “This case is notable because of the size of the fines, which are the largest we have seen due to the number of premises owned, and the fact they used an internet device.
“I am disappointed that a minority of publicans still ignore the many warnings given by the courts and ourselves over a period of years, but I am delighted for the majority who still respect the law and have suffered loss of trade by the activities of rogue neighbours.”
The pair have been given three months to pay the fine and fees in full.
Earlier this month, European judges were advised to back the right of Ms Murphy to use a Greek decoder to screen matches.
She faced a fine and costs totalling almost £8,000 after being taken to court by the Football Association Premier League, which represents the broadcasting interests of the 20 Premier League clubs.
But an Advocate-General at the European Court of Justice, Julie Kokott, said blocking Ms Murphy’s right to use the decoder breached European Union single market rules.
EU judges will rule on the matter later this year as at this moment Ms Kokott’s opinion is not legally binding.