TWO brothers jailed over a Lapland-style theme park con have been freed on appeal – because a juror texted her fiancee during their trial.
Three Court of Appeal judges announced that their convictions under Trading Standards legislation are ‘unsafe’.
Victor Mears, 67, and Henry Mears, 60, were jailed for 13 months in March and have both now served their sentences.
Bristol Crown Court heard during their trial that the pair promised visitors a winter wonderland with snow-covered log cabins, a nativity scene, husky dogs, polar bears and other animals, and a bustling Christmas market at the Lapland attraction in the New Forest.
But customers, who paid £30 a ticket, arrived to a muddy field, a broken ice rink and fairy lights hung from trees, the court heard.
The attraction closed less than a week after opening in November 2008.
Dorset Trading Standards prosecuted the brothers under consumer protection laws.
Victor, of Selsfield Drive, and Henry, of Coombe Road, both Brighton, East Sussex, denied eight charges of misleading advertising – but a jury found them guilty on all counts following a nine-week trial.
However lawyers for the brothers argued they should not have been convicted after the trial judge discovered a woman had been in regular contact with her partner, who sat in the public gallery during the trial.
They texted each other – even while the juror was in the jury box – with one of the man’s messages reading ‘guilty’.
The fiance also texted her from the public gallery to warn her when she may be called back in following discussions in the absence of the jury.
She showed some of these to other members of the jury, the court heard.
The woman admitted being in touch with her fiance.
She said his ‘guilty’ text was an apology for eating a fried breakfast that morning, when he should have been on a diet.
The judges’ conviction appeals were allowed by Lord Justice Moore-Bick, Mr Justice Butterfield and Mr Justice Irwin. No application was made for a retrial.
Lord Justice Moore-Bick announced at the end of a hearing in London: “We have reached the conclusion that the convictions are unsafe.”
He said the court would give its reasons for its decision at a later date.