Lapland New Forest - Brothers On Trial

A woman told today of her "sheer disappointment'' at visiting a Lapland-style theme park which she thought would be a magical Christmas experience.

Angela Barnes was left distraught having bought tickets to go to the Lapland New Forest UK attraction near Ringwood, Hampshire.

Mrs Barnes said she had believed the descriptions on the park's website which 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.

However, as jurors at Bristol Crown Court have been told, instead of the promised magical festive treat, visitors experienced fairy lights hung from trees, tethered dogs, a plastic polar bear and a broken ice rink.

Mrs Barnes told the court that after seeing an advert and viewing the park's website she bought tickets for herself and her husband - costing a total of £60 - for the weekend it opened in November 2008.

"It looked so wonderful and exciting and was something I had not been to before,'' she told jurors.

"The 'magical tunnel of light' attracted me as did the 'bustling Christmas market'.''

Mrs Barnes, from Southsea, Hampshire, explained to jurors that her excitement was quickly spoilt as she saw the highly anticipated 'tunnel of light'.

"I thought it was an introduction to what was going to get better. I didn't realise I was properly inside the attraction,'' she said.

Mrs Barnes said she had walked around looking for the 'tunnel of light' and added:

"I was sad because I persuaded my husband to go because I got excited by these things, because I felt I had dragged him along to something that was a waste of money.

"The thing was I was looking forward to seeing the 'magic tunnel of light', which on the website looked stunning, but it just didn't exist.''

Mrs Barnes described the nativity scene as an "advertising hoarding'' and added: "It was across a muddy ploughed field. It was painted with sandy mountains, three camels and a star.

"I was expecting something much more 3D.''

She described the 'bustling Christmas market' as nothing more than five stalls selling nothing more than "tacky paper and cards'' and the ice skating rink as "two large puddles''.

"I thought it was going to be a really first class ice rink,'' she told jurors.

Summarising her visit, Mrs Barnes, who later complained to trading standards, said:

"You could have walked around the whole park in half an hour.

"I am just sad as it was a waste of a day. A big part of an event like that is the excitement in the weeks before.

"It wasn't so much the money, it was just the sheer disappointment and the fact we had been misled.''

She said families had queued at Lapland New Forest for more than three hours to see Father Christmas.

"It was just heartbreaking to see these people in the cold with their children, who they had promised could see Father Christmas - so they had little choice in waiting,'' Mrs Barnes told the jury.

Jurors have heard that within days of the theme park opening in November 2008, hundreds of disgruntled visitors had complained to trading standards saying they had been ripped off.

With customers charged £30 a ticket and with up to 10,000 advance bookings online, the owners - brothers Victor and Henry Mears, from Brighton - were set to take £1.2 million in ticket sales.

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.

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.

Less than a week later the attraction closed as the company behind it, Lapland New Forest UK Ltd, went into liquidation, with the defendants blaming the media and sabotage from "New Forest villains'' for the decision.

Victor Mears, 67, of Selsfield Drive, and Henry Mears, 60, of Coombe Road, deny all the charges.

In a written statement to the court, housewife Karen Humphrey, Brighton, explained why she paid £150 for tickets to Lapland New Forest.

"My family had not had a good year,'' she said.

"My husband had suffered a heart attack and my son was diagnosed with more disabilities.''

Mrs Humphrey said the highlight of her family's visit was queueing for entry.

"Little did I know at this point the most exciting point of the day would be queueing to get into the park.''

She said the 'tunnel of light' was a big disappointment.

"What I found was a few trees with some fairy lights hung from them,'' she said.

Mrs Humphrey said the nativity scene was a "painted billboard''.

"At this moment my heart sank because I knew this was not what we expected.

"Then we noticed a plastic polar bear stuck in the middle of the woods - there wasn't even any snow.''

Mrs Humphrey said that she was so concerned about the condition of the huskie dogs - one had "sunken eyes and protruding teeth'' - she reported the theme park to the RSPCA.

"We queued for an hour and a half to see Father Christmas,'' she added.

"When we entered the hut the floor was covered with a few pine needles and a picture of a log fire on the wall.

"Father Christmas looked very scruffy and didn't even have a real costume on.''

Mrs Humphrey added:

"From what I saw advertised on the website did not match what we saw.

"What we witnessed was disgusting and a disgrace.''

Another disappointed visitor, Lillie Hopwood, from the Isle of Wight, spent £100 to take her husband and two grandchildren to the theme park.

"The overall experience was very disappointing,'' the retired grandmother said in her statement.

"The advertisement was completely misleading and raised expectations.

"As customers we did not feel we got value for money.

"Lapland New Forest fell well short of our expectations.''

The trial was adjourned until Monday.