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Beverley guest house owner fined over misleading four-star rating

A Bridlington Informer News Item from - Visit Bridlington Informer

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The owner of a Beverley guest house whose guests complained of dirty rooms needs to pay over £7,000 after admitting to falsely claiming the establishment had a four-star rating.

John Dixon Hart, 53 of Keldgate, Beverley and owner of Beverley Guest House, formerly known as Minster Garth Guest House, appeared at Beverley Magistrates Court on Wednesday, 19 July where he pleaded guilty to charges of advertising and running a guest house below the minimum standards expected by consumers as well as one charge of using misleading adverts to suggest the guesthouse was of four-star standard.

He was fined £2,000 for each offence, has to pay costs of £2,916.30 and victim surcharge of £170.

The court was told how in 2008, Minster Garth had been given a four-star rating by Visit England and was advertised as such in the Visit Hull and East Yorkshire Tourist Guide.

Hart took over the business a few years later but failed to renew the contract with Quality in Tourism/Visit England nor did he renew the contract to advertise the guest house in the local tourism guide.

In December 2011, officers from East Riding of Yorkshire Council's trading standards team received a letter from Quality in Tourism stating that Hart was still using their star/diamond crown four-star rating with the Visit England logo without their permission.

In 2012, Hart removed all reference to the Quality in Tourism logo but, with no criteria or justification, he replaced it with a self-certified four-star rating.

The council had written to Hart on a number of occasions to warn him of the consequences of misleading consumers and also offered advice as to what would be required from him when self-certifying.

Between May 2013 and August 2013, the council received a number of complaints from guests saying the guesthouse was falling short of four-star establishment expectations resulting in a number of warning letters to Hart from trading standards officers, which were ignored.

In 2016, a number of guests made complaints to staff at Beverley Tourist Information Centre about Minster Garth, which was now operating as Beverley Guest House, about the hygiene and electrical safety of the property and staff were so concerned they contacted trading standards officers.

Fire officers also raised concerns about the business falling below standards expected and said there had been a disproportionate number of complaints about fire safety resulting in Fire Safety Deficiency Notices being issued.

In statements given to trading standards officers, guests complained of "dirty rooms with dust and muck all over", mould on the shower, windows that didn't lock, cobwebs, damp patches, blood stains on the wall, and either a very basic breakfast or no breakfast – despite it being advertised.

One witness booked an overnight stay at the guest house online after being impressed with the photographs but when she arrived she found mud inside the fridge, the carpets, curtains and bedding were filthy while the bath was mouldy and grimy and one witness claimed to have found mouse droppings on the bed.

Other guests described Hart as "rambiling" and "appeared confused and drunk" and "under the influence".

One witness statement said: "I could probably say, with one exception, that this is the worst B&B I have ever stayed in. "I expected accommodation described as four-star in a well-to-do-place like Beverley to be very good.
If I had known at the time of booking what I learned during my stay I would never have booked the accommodation".

Another witness told officers "the website is misleading. The images and prose do not reflect the reality – described as four-star which is incredibly misleading. Hadn't read the damning reviews before booking.

"It is the worst accommodation we have ever stayed in. Husband stayed one night and slept on a sleeping bag but I went to relatives.

"We simply wanted clean accommodation but this did not provide even the basic needs. This was being sold under false pretences. Our money was taken but a service was not provided.

"My hope is that this can be changed so that other unsuspecting guests are not as bitterly disappointed as us."

Duty solicitor Dave Robson, who was representing Hart, told magistrates he had "tried to adhere" to the standards of a four star guest house and advertising as a four star establishment wasn't "deliberate" and he had "made efforts" to get the advertising removed.

Mr Robson also said that Hart accepted his "poor temperament" towards guests wasn't acceptable but that he was trying to improve the guest house by installing his wife as manageress, who is dealing with all the bookings and cleaning regimes, as well as employing a decorator to give the premises a complete refurbishment.

Mr Robson said: "When Hart took over the running of the guest house he took on too much by trying to do all the work himself and that, combined with other pressures, led him to turn to drink which has been reflected in the poor service.
"He also accepts there have been people who had complained but there have been over 1,000 guests staying at the premises, many of whom had been complimentary.

"He also said the business is suffering due to the recent opening of the nearby Premier Inn but he is determined to try and improve the standard of the guest house and make it a success."

Colin Briggs, trading standards manager at East Riding of Yorkshire Council, said: "As the proprietor of such a guest house, Hart was expected to maintain certain standards which he clearly failed to do.

"His self-certified rating of four-star was clearly designed to give people the impression they would be staying in a high-class establishment which ultimately failed to meet even the minimum expected standards.

"When you stay in any establishment you may not necessarily expect luxury but you do expect your basic needs to be met and to have somewhere clean and comfortable to stay – that was not the experience of a lot of guests who stayed at this guest house.

"There are many fantastic guest houses, B&Bs and hotels in Beverley which do adhere to the standards expected of them."