Alasdair Walker-Cox and his wife Lydia insisted they did nothing wrong because they sold newspapers, snacks and baking products which were classed as ‘essential items’
Image: Tristan Potter/SWNS)
A couple fined £35,000 for refusing to close their gift card and book shop during lockdown have won their court appeal.
Alasdair Walker-Cox, 55, and wife Lydia, 51, were penalized after they stayed open despite non-essential shops being told to shut to stop the spread of coronavirus.
They insisted they did nothing wrong because they sold newspapers, snacks and baking products which were classed as “essential items”.
The couple filmed police barging into Grace Cards and Books in Droitwich, Worcestershire, last February ordering them to close.
They argued that they were an essential shop because they sold items which were available in WH Smith, which was allowed to stay open during the pandemic.
The pair were eventually hauled to court charged with seven breaches of The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) Regulations.
They lost their trial last year and were fined a total of £35,000 and told to pay £9,000 court costs.
But the couple, who have seven children, appealed against the ruling and vowed to go to prison rather than close their shop or pay the ends.
Judge James Burbidge QC overturned the conviction, saying: “We allow his appeal against his conviction and sentence.”
He told Worcester Crown Court that lockdowns were “difficult times” and the rules were “open to interpretation”.
In the appeal, Mr Walker-Cox, who has run the shop with his wife for 30 years, admitted he “disagreed” with lockdown rules.
Speaking after the case, Mr Walker-Cox said: “We are of course over the moon with the result. This has been going on for a very long time.
“We never believed it should have gone to court and always believed we were in the right.
“We have not decided yet whether to seek compensation. At the moment we just want to open and run our shop as we have always done.”
The couple were served with numerous prohibition notices during the second and third lockdowns last year.
During their trial at Kidderminster Magistrates’ Court last August, they were accused of using fizzy drinks to “flout regulations”.
Prosecutor Howard Leithead, said: “Any shop can set up a few drinks and sell newspapers to become a newsagents – this clearly wasn’t a newsagents.
“It sends a signal that it is easy to flout regulations. The shop is a called a card and book shop that is exactly what it is.”
Mr Walker-Cox told the court how they had compared their business to others like WH Smith and decided to stay open.
He said: “We noticed WH Smith were open and we sold similar items to them so we remained open. We could increase our offerings of essential goods.
“We have lots of cake making materials and we sold drinks before lockdown and brought a Coca-Cola refrigerator.
“It was dismissed by the council as not being essential.
“After a visit on the February 19 by the council, we sought guidance from the council about how we could go about being an essential offering. That advice wasn’t forthcoming.”
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.