Page last updated at 17:47 GMT, Thursday, 4 December 2008

Lapland theme park is closed down

Visitors said the park was nothing like the marketing on its website

A Lapland-style theme park criticised by visitors as "hell" and a "scam" has closed down permanently.

Lapland New Forest opened on Friday on the Hampshire-Dorset border but was criticised by hundreds of visitors.

The firm running the park said it had closed the attraction because of "intentional organised crowd manipulation and event sabotage".

Trading standards earlier said it was investigating complaints from visitors but did not have the power to shut it.

A big sign put up outside the park on Thursday morning said: "Lapland New Forest closed - for more information contact the website".

In the afternoon, a statement from Victor Mears, director of Lapland New Forest, was published on the website.

It read: "With my deepest regret and sincerest apology I am left with no option but to announce that I am forced to close the children's entertainment theme park Lapland New Forest for 2008.

Mr Mears said it was due to: "Intentional organised crowd manipulation and event sabotage during and since our first trading weekend.

The BBC searches for Lapland park owners

He also blamed "unscrupulous and inaccurate negative bias media broadcasts of both local and national press and television companies that contributed significantly to fuelling widespread public concern, frenzy and distraction".

He also said all the company's funds had been "illegally" withdrawn "without notice from the Lapland New Forest Ltd bank account leaving us completely unable to trade".

Mr Mears added: "For all people wishing to claim financial reimbursement I can only advise that you return to our website for further information on this important matter."

Dorset Police said officers were called to the site in the morning after allegations contractors had not been paid.

One contractor had feared a breach of the peace but no arrests were made, they said.

One of the organisers, Henry Mears, told the BBC on Monday that he blamed "professional troublemakers" for bad reports about the site. He has since been unavailable for comment.

More than 2,000 people who paid 25-30 for tickets to the park near Ringwood have officially complained about it.

Hundreds of people have been calling for the closure of the attraction and demanding refunds, complaining it does not resemble marketing images on its website.

A big sign outside Lapland New Forest
The firm running the theme park took the decision to close it

The website became unavailable on Monday afternoon, but was later republished with different pictures.

The BBC has tried to track down the organisers of the park since speaking to Henry Mears on Monday, but without success.

But a friend of Victor Mears, the registered director of the attraction, said the director was "genuinely concerned and upset" about events.

David Bishop told the BBC: "They're going to lose a hell of a lot of money and possibly one of them's going to lose a house over this.

"They haven't tried to cheat, they haven't run, they haven't taken money out of the bank.

"He was in floods of tears the other day when I was talking to him because he felt that he had done something wrong to kids."

Santa attacked

On Wednesday, a former security guard at the site, Adrian Wood, told the BBC that people had been "ripped off" and he had been "ashamed to work there".

He resigned after seeing a family take their mother out of a cancer hospice for what could be her last Christmas, he said.

He also said staff were subjected to violent outbursts by irate customers, including Santa being attacked and one of the elves being "smacked in the face and pushed into a pram".

He too had been punched in the forehead, he said.

The theme park's website had shown pictures of snowy "winter wonderland" scenes and icicles.

It also promised real log cabins, a nativity scene, husky dogs and other animals, as well as a "bustling" Christmas market.

People said the original website was misleading

Hundreds of people have complained to the BBC since the park opened, saying the animals looked unhappy and huskies looked thin and were chained up in a pen.

The RSPCA later visited the site and said the animals were fine.

Other facilities, including a broken ice rink, were poor, visitors said, describing the site as a "scam", a "joke", "disorganised chaos" and "hell".

Tickets cost 30 for individuals, 25 for each person for families of four or more, and 10 for children under two years old.

Some complained they then had to pay more to use some of the facilities once inside the park.

East Dorset District Council also revealed it had to stop the sale of alcohol on site because an application for a licence had been granted but was not yet in force.

Dissatisfied customers have been advised by Consumer Direct to consider taking the matter to county court if writing a letter is unsuccessful.

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