In the first case of its kind, the Royal Court yesterday handed down the fine after hearing that the hotel had operated its pool, sauna, steam room and Jacuzzi during a time when Covid restrictions meant all such facilities should have been off-limits to the public.
But, in an extraordinary hearing, the reasons given by Advocate Steven Chiddicks, defending, for the breach were not heard by the court after a written submission of mitigation was presented instead of the usual verbal submissions.
A legal source has confirmed this was ‘highly unusual’.
The court heard that a staff member had repeatedly asked senior management whether the hotel might be breaking the rules.
The business was eventually reported by a member of the public who emailed authorities to ask why the Weighbridge-based hotel was operating its spa facilities while others across the Island were closed. The company, represented in court by chief executive James Taylor, was then ordered to close them.
A statement was provided by a guest claiming that they, along with a group of three others, had used the sauna, steam room and Jacuzzi in August and that there had been a further ten people there at the time.
Mr Taylor was interviewed by the Health and Safety Inspectorate and admitted having decided to open the spa, adding that he had not realised it was still prohibited.
Crown Advocate Matthew Maletroit, prosecuting, said that the hotel should have not just adhered to the guidance
published on the government’s website but that, ‘as a substantial operation with healthy pre-tax profits’, should have sought legal advice before deciding to open the facilities, especially after concerns were raised by a staff member.
He said: ‘The Crown says the defendant fell well short of industry standards and woefully short of its responsibilities to protect the public. This offence took place over the course of three months and the defendant has referred to it as a slippage but the Crown characterises this breach very differently.
‘It would be unrealistic to suggest that there was no commercial motivation. It is likely to have afforded an unfair advantage over their competitors which had to comply with their legal obligations. The Crown’s assessment of culpability in this case is high.’
He added that there was ‘no evidence that any guests or staff contracted Covid-19’ as a result of the breach, before calling for a penalty of £425,000 to be imposed.
Advocate Chiddicks did not speak to the court to put forward his client’s points of mitigation but instead submitted them in a written format for the Jurats to consider.
However, while clarifying a point made by Advocate Maletroit, he said that authorities had inspected other parts of his client’s business during the pandemic and it was therefore ‘under a spotlight’ and had complied with other Covid-19 requirements.
In November, The Royal Yacht came under fire for hosting what was dubbed a ‘super-spreader’ event. However, after investigation, it was found that the hotel had not breached any Covid regulations on that occasion.
Delivering the court’s sentence, Deputy Bailiff Robert MacRae, presiding, said The Royal Yacht had received more than £1.8 million from the taxpayer to pay its staff during the pandemic and the least Islanders could expect was for the company to understand Covid regulations.
He said: ‘It was only an intervention by a member of the public that led to the Health and Safety Inspectorate being alerted to the situation and ensuring the spa was closed. We note with concern that [a staff member] queried on several occasions with senior management whether they were permitted to open and was told that they could.
‘The court is not suggesting that this was a deliberate breach of Covid regulations but the hotel had [initially] closed all spa facilities in March 2020 during the Island lockdown and had full resources available to it to ensure that it complied with the regulations. Other hotels complied with the regulations but The Royal Yacht did not.’
Jurats Jerry Ramsden and Robert Christensen were sitting.
Following the ruling, The Royal Yacht issued a statement, which said: ‘The hotel owners and management would like to give full consideration to today’s ruling and will issue a more detailed statement in due course.
‘When certain spa facilities and swimming pools were permitted to operate, re-opening our sauna, steam room and jacuzzi was a genuine oversight for which we are truly sorry and take full responsibility.
‘The Royal Yacht will continue to strive to provide a safe and enjoyable environment for our staff and guests.
‘We would like to thank all of our dedicated team and our valued and loyal customers for their continued support.’