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Plymouth ‘Magna Carta’ cafe to appeal £42k fines and costs

EH officer accused of high treason and threatened with the “gallows”.
22 July 2021 , Katie Coyne

A Plymouth coffee shop prosecuted for flouting COVID regs by the local authority said on its website it plans to appeal and has set up a GoFundMe page for legal costs.

Earlier this week Finla Coffee had raised £8,480 as part of its fighting fund, and on the page accused Plymouth City Council and a “minority of hate-filled locals” of a “campaign of harassment, intimidation and abuse”. It goes on to say the prosecution is “ridiculous and unlawful and the £42k may as well be £42m”.

Plymouth City Council prosecuted Finla based on two breaches of the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) (No 4) Regulations 2020. It received reports from the public that the coffee shop was serving food and drink when it shouldn’t have been.

Deputy District Judge Roderick Hine at Exeter Magistrates Court found the company and its two owners – Deanna Yates, 34, and Michael Pendlebury, 35, from Plympton – guilty and fined all three £10,000 each. It also ordered Finla Coffee Ltd to pay £8,221, and the two owners £2,002 each towards court and council investigation costs, Plymouth Live reported.

The judge said they were clearly subject to the regulations and the arguments – such as the Magna Carta – that they put forward in defence were “wrong” and “irrelevant”. He said their “numerous letters” to the council contained spurious arguments as to why they weren’t liable to comply.

Plymouth City Council’s prosecutor told the court the couple’s actions had diverted resources away from other work. He said 156 hours in legal administration and investigation had been spent on the case, and the council’s public health duty manager said her department had spent double that amount of time.

Environmental health officers visited Finla Coffee to inform them of the regulations so they were aware and could comply. On one visit, on 7 November, an EH officer was confronted by an unknown person who accused them of “high treason” and threatened them with the “gallows”.

The court was also told that Yates was featured in a video on social media where she warned that the council was committing treason.

EHN Extra approached Finla for comment and Yates did initially agree to comment, but in the end was not available.

Plymouth City Council gave the following comment prior to finding out that Finla may appeal.

"We recognise that the last 15 months have been phenomenally difficult for all businesses getting to grips with lockdowns and lifting of restrictions. It’s been a tough, tough time.

"That is why our approach has always been throughout the pandemic, to engage, to explain, educate and then only as a last resort, to enforce.

"The COVID-19 regulations were brought in by the Government as part of a massive, countrywide effort to reduce the spread of the virus.

"Across the period, the vast majority of businesses have been exceptionally diligent and worked with us and the public to do all they can to follow the guidance.
"We worked with over 3,500 businesses issuing guidance, offering advice and visiting. Of all those, only 13 fixed penalty notices were issued for breaches of regulations and they paid.

 "Sadly it was not the case in this instance. Taking court action is the last thing we want to do, but consistent and very public breaches, while all other establishments were at pains to do the right thing just could not be ignored.

"The pandemic has claimed the lives of 152,606 people in this country alone. Across the world it has claimed nearly 4 million and while many people have thankfully recovered from the virus and the vaccine programme is hugely successful, COVID is still with us and the numbers of cases are rising in Plymouth.”

* CIEH President Julie Barratt, who is a barrister and legal trainer, warned of the “Magna Carta warrior” phenomenon at the end of last year.

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