The owner of a seaside vacation rental business has successfully appealed against the £ 3,000 fine for coronavirus from which he was struck.
Billy Jones accepted a reservation from a “family” for his Carmarthenshire cottage at the height of the Covid lockdown, when only key workers should have been traveling and staying in hotels and B & Bs. In fact, the reservation was made by a business standards consultancy department as a “test purchase” following complaints about activity at the property.
Former police officer Jones was found guilty of breaking Covid regulations following a trial in magistrates’ court and was fined £ 3,000, but the case has been brought to trial Swansea Crown Court when he appealed the level of his fine.
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The court heard that in January 2021 Carmarthenshire Council had received complaints from members of the public about a vacation rental chalet called Ysbryd-y-Mor at Ocean View in Pendine, which was being promoted on the Skyes Cottages website. At the time, only key workers were supposed to travel and book accommodation, and when such bookings were made, the traveler was supposed to be asked for a letter confirming their status which the business operator could provide to the local council to obtain a permit. residence permit.
After inquiring, a business standards official contacted Skyes Cottages and asked the company to remind the owner of Ysbryd-y-Mor of the current regulations. Jones then called the Business Standards Department and said an electrician was working on the property but no one was staying there.
The council continued to monitor the situation and subsequently made a reservation of two nights for a family of two adults and four children during the February mid-term holiday for £ 828. Two days before the arrival date, Jones, 67, called the city councilor who was posing as the father of the family, to check if they were still going. On February 20, the municipal officer went to the Pendine house and opened the external key safe with the code given to him but did not enter the property.
The court heard that the onus was on the owner and those running the business to carry out the necessary Covid checks and that responsibility could not be transferred to the people making the booking.
On March 1 the council issued a notice of a flat-rate penalty of £ 1,000 and a week later Jones called local authorities to say he would not pay and they would see him in court.
Jones, of Church Road, Tonteg, Pontypridd, had previously been found guilty of breaking Covid regulations during a trial in Llanelli Magistrates’ Court on September 24 and was fined £ 3,000 and £ 2,186 in prosecution costs – which included the invoice for the holiday booking – when he appeared before the higher court on appeal. He has already been convicted of having hijacked the course of justice.
The court heard that the former police officer and postal worker had no legal representation in the initial trial.
It was argued in Crown court that the fine was excessive given Jones’ financial situation – he is dependent on two occupational pension plans and is also subject to a Forfeiture Order (Poca) for over £ 300,000 following an unrelated conviction under the Private Security Industry Act. The defendant has now sold the Pendine cottage, in part to satisfy the Poca order. It has also been argued that Jones relied on what Skyes Cottages told him and that the situation in early 2021 had been “evolving” with the regular release of new regulations.
Judge Huw Rees allowed the appeal, saying that although the council acted correctly to protect the public when it made the test purchase, the fine subsequently imposed on the court was excessive. Jones was fined £ 1,000 instead – the amount of the original fixed penalty notice. The judge said the district court had “proceeded quite vigorously” in proceeding directly with the conviction after the conviction.
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