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

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

Two years ago, 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 had complained to trading standards they had been ripped off, Bristol Crown Court heard yesterday.

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 1.2m, prosecutor Malcolm Gibney told the court.

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

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.

"It was described as being a winter wonderland," he said.

But within days trading standards officers received a host of complaints and it closed within a week.

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 people travelled from as far as West Wales, the Midlands and the south east of England to visit Lapland.

Its website stated: "The attention to detail of our theme park will truly wow you."

Thomas Parham, of Crewkerne, Somerset, said he spent 150 on tickets to take his wife, her parents and their two young children, aged eight and six, to Lapland on the first weekend it opened.

"It seemed like a wonderful day out for the whole family," he said.

He described the promised polar bear as a "poor plastic representation which didn't fool my six-year-old for a second".

And he said the huskies were tethered to pens in a muddy enclosure.

"They advertised mulled wine but when we inquired we were told by one of the elves they didn't have a drinks licence," he said.

Mr Parham said there was a three-hour queue to see Father Christmas and his family did not bother waiting.

Another disappointed visitor, Peter Bacon, told the court he paid 310 for 14 members of his family to see Lapland.

Mr Bacon, from Southampton, said members of his family had travelled from as far away as Birmingham and Chippenham for the family treat.

He described his first impression of the attraction as "not very good".

"When we arrived there were a load of caravans, which looked like a load of travellers' caravans," he told jurors.

"I was just hurt really.

"I brought my family from all over the country to see something like that."

The trial continues.