Minster Garth: Owner of 'Basil Fawlty' guesthouse in Yorkshire to 'give business another go' as he avoids jail for bloodstained sheets, mouse droppings and abusing guests

The owner of a Yorkshire guesthouse has avoided jail after being convicted of misleading commercial practices – as he told a judge he wanted to give his business ‘another go’.

John Dixon Hart, 60, has been likened to Basil Fawlty for his management of Minster Garth in Beverley, a Grade II-listed Georgian townhouse originally owned by his mother.

The hotelier appeared at Hull Crown Court today for sentencing after pleading guilty to six charges against him relating to a nine-month period in 2021 and 2022 when a number of guests complained about the state of the rooms and his conduct towards them.

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East Riding Council prosecuted him after investigating ‘misleading’ adverts he had posted on booking sites such as Expedia, Laterooms and Booking.com in which the photographs of rooms bore no relation to the reality of the facilities. He also falsely claimed to hold a four-star rating.

Minster GarthMinster Garth
Minster Garth

The B&B was described as ‘tatty and rundown’, ‘shabby’ and ‘an absolute dump’ with unkempt grounds and poor security. Complainants said they found bloodstained sheets, mouse droppings in a drawer, missing bathroom tiles, missing door handles, mouldy shower curtains, an unstaffed reception and threadbare carpets.

Hart was difficult to get hold of when guests were trying to check in, and was often drunk and abusive when he answered the phone. The guesthouse smelled musty and of tobacco smoke.

Some guests immediately left and commented that Hart was ‘extremely unwelcoming’ towards them. One woman said the bin in her room had not been emptied, and another was called a ‘sponger’ by Hart.

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Among those left asking for a refund were a group of international equestrian judges attending an event at Bishop Burton College, while a visiting health and safety inspector found dead insects on a window sill.

An investigating council officer who found the false adverts said that even a one-star rating would have ‘flattered’ the establishment.

However, Hart, who did not have legal representation, told a sympathetic Judge Mark Bury that the business was potentially a ‘goldmine’ and that he hoped to keep running it and eventually pass it on to his two sons.

Judge Bury agreed he should not have to pay the £16,000 court costs after hearing that Hart faced large unpaid tax and utility bills and was struggling to turn a profit.

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Hart said he had redecorated and recarpeted the hotel but argued that customers expected a ‘more hands-on’ approach than he could offer.

He added: “There are 13 rooms and when people are demanding your attention at the same time it can be fraught. It is only me and my stepson, who is the housekeeper.”

He said the guesthouse, which no longer serves food, was the cheapest in Beverley and ‘good value’, despite Judge Bury saying he was ‘staggered’ that Minster Garth had ‘any guests at all’.

When questioned about the mouse droppings, Hart argued that ‘it happens’ when drawers are not used frequently enough, and offered disgruntled complainants a £25 ‘token’ payment and a free night in the ‘reformed’ hotel rather than the compensation requested by the prosecution.

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Yet Judge Bury rejected his suggestion and instead ordered him to pay £729 to the witnesses in the case who had not been refunded.

Handing him a nine-month prison sentence suspended for two years and ordering him to complete 20 days of rehabilitation activity, Judge Bury said: “This is to get you back on your feet and help you run this guesthouse not like Basil Fawlty would. Minster Garth is in a desirable area and should attract many guests. Yet you were abusive, never on the premises, and the place smelled unpleasant. It was unclean. I would never have dreamt of staying somewhere like that. Yet at the time your life was falling apart. You have since made impressive progress and your life has been transformed.

"It is a potentially lucrative business if you stay off the drink. Expect a mystery shopper to visit you at some point.”