The owner of Grace Cards & Books in Droitwich refused to close during the third lockdown, arguing it was exempt from closure rules as it sold some food and publications. As a result, Alasdair Walker-Cox was convicted of breaking lockdown rules by Kidderminster Magistrates’ Court and fined £35,000, with an additional costs order of £9,000.
But he appealed the judgment and it has now been overturned. BirminghamLive has more.
In a video shared widely on social media in February 2021, Mr Walker-Cox’s wife Lydia was seen challenging a council official and a police officer over their decision to keep the shop open. The business was fined four times for its stance and Mr Walker-Cox was convicted of breaching lockdown rules and fined £35,000 with just under £9,000 costs after a trial at Kidderminster Magistrates’ Court last August.
But he won his appeal against his conviction and sentence at Worcester Crown Court on Friday, February 25th.
His defence argued there was a dearth of advice from the local authorities and he was a man of good character who had not acted out of “dishonesty”. Asked about his alleged “staunch opposition” of the lockdown rules by the prosecution, Mr Walker-Cox told the court: “I would say I disagreed with them, yeah.”
At his trial last year, prosecutors alleged he had “very little regard” for Covid rules in place at the time. But he told the appeal hearing some of his staff wore masks and he had not “made political comments in the media” about coronavirus regulations.
He also argued on Friday that the shop sold a small number of food products, such as cake supplies, and so could be classed as an essential business. “You either sell food or you don’t sell food,” he said. “If you want a sandwich, you go out and buy a sandwich. If you want a cake, you go and buy cake ingredients.”
Summing up its case, the prosecution argued it was “crystal clear” his business was not a food retailer or a newsagent and so could not be classed as an essential business which could have remained open. But judge James Burbidge QC agreed with Mr Walker-Cox’s defence, saying: “We allow his appeal against his conviction and sentence.”
He said the lockdowns were “difficult times” and the coronavirus rules were “open to interpretation”. He added: “We won’t criticise the local authority for bringing this case.”
The decision means both the conviction and huge fine have been overturned. Reacting to the ruling, Mr Walker-Cox told WorcestershireLive it was a “huge weight” off his mind.
“It’s been 18 months of stress but ultimately it was worth the fight,” he said. “I’m absolutely delighted – there are so many people to thank and we will get round them all but particularly Josh, Harry and Peter at Resolve Law.”
Worth reading in full.
We haven’t had a ‘Sceptic of the Week’ for a while, but Mr Walker-Cox undoubtedly deserves the title.