The Royal Yacht Hotel has been fined £350,000 for a “flagrant and persistent” breach of covid rules last summer.
The hotel’s Spa Sirène was open to residents and members of the public between June and September last year, when emergency covid restrictions prevented saunas, steam rooms and jacuzzis from being used.
The hotel spa closed on 23 March, when the island went into lockdown, and reopened on 12 June. Covid restrictions introduced by the Government said that pools and gyms could reopen then, but not saunas, jacuzzis and steam rooms.
However, the hotel reopened its full spa and the facilities were used by guests, spa members and the public over the summer.
On 7 September, the Health and Safety Inspectorate received an email from a member of the public asking why the hotel’s spa facilities were open.
A member of the Covid team phoned the spa manager, who confirmed that the facilities were being used. Later interviewed by officers, the manager said she was aware of the guidelines and had raised concerns with senior management on several occasions.
However, she was told each time that the entire spa could stay open.
On 22 September, hotel CEO and Chairman James Taylor, who was present in court for the sentencing, was interviewed under caution. He said he had made the decision to reopen without realising that it was still prohibited by law.
He said the error was entirely his and he apologised.
In calling for a £425,000 fine, which equated to 20% of the hotel’s pre-tax profits in the year before the pandemic. Crown Advocate Matthew Maletroit said that the hotel’s conduct “had fallen well short of industry standards and woefully short of its responsibility to protect the public."
“Fines in serious breaches of the law should sting both to punish the wrongdoer and encourage others to heed their obligations,” he said.
“The defendant, at best, negligently flouted a law introduced to protect the entire Island community. The sentence given should both punish and deter.”
In defence, Advocate Steven Chiddicks said that visits by Environmental Health officers to the restaurant over the period had demonstrated that the hotel had been under the spotlight and it had complied with all other covid-related requirements. He added that his client had cooperated fully with the investigation.
However, most of the hotel’s defence arguments were contained in written submissions which were not read out in court.
Pictured: Jacuzzis, steam rooms and saunas could not reopen when swimming pools and gyms were allowed to last June.
Passing sentence, Deputy Bailiff Robert MacRae, who was sitting with Jurats Jerry Ramsden and Jane Ronge said: “The Royal Yacht Hotel is a large and substantial Jersey business in normal circumstances and its net profit in the last financial year was in excess of £2m.
“The spa, steam room and jacuzzi facilities were part of the attraction of the hotel. It should have understood the regulations that govern it, particularly during a pandemic.
"For a business to breach regulations such as these, particularly over a sustained period, was a significant breach of criminal law.
“It was only due to the intervention of a member of the public that the Health and Safety Inspectorate was alerted, which ensured the facilities were closed.
“We note with concern that the spa manager queried the use of the facilities on several occasions with senior management but she was told that they should be open.
“The Court is not suggesting it was a deliberate breach, but the hotel had closed all facilities last March and had sufficient resources to ensure that it complied with its legal obligations. Other hotels complied - but the Royal Yacht did not.
“We have been told today that, during the course of the public health crisis, the Royal Yacht has received £1,873,110 from the taxpayer and the least that taxpayers can expect in return is for the hotel to understand criminal law, in as far as it relates to covid.
“There were enquiries by staff, which were answered in the affirmative, that could have easily been checked with the authorities.
“We agreed with the Crown’s assertion that the hotel fell significantly short of industry standards and its wider responsibility to the community.
“We agree that its culpability is high and there was a significant risk of harm to the public in this breach.
“We have had to stand back from the facts of this case and consider what the fine should be.
Pictured: Deputy Bailiff Robert MacRae: "For a business to breach regulations such as these, particularly over a sustained period, was a significant breach of criminal law."
“There was a substantial duration of breach, there was a failure to take proper advice, there was an advantage in remaining open when other spas were closed, and there was risk of harm.
“We also need to consider the hotel’s financial position, its guilty plea and the need for the penalty to sting, leading to an adequate punishment and a deterrent to other businesses.
“We fine the hotel £350,000 to be paid in six months and order it to pay a £5,000 contribution to prosecution costs.”
This was the first case of a covid breach coming before the Royal Court. In October, the Marina Hotel had been fined £20,000 by the Licensing Assembly for allowing dancing, live music and non-seated drinking to occur.
After the Royal Court ruling, the hotel issued a statement: "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’."
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