A judge has ordered an independent cinema to close and pay £5,000 to the local authority after becoming embroiled in a row over Covid rules.
Cinema & Co owner, Anna Redfern, appeared before Swansea Magistrates’ Court on Tuesday to dispute an application made by Swansea Council to have her business shut down on public health grounds.
Swansea Council initially ordered the cinema, on Castle Street, to close for 28 days after Ms Redfern publicly refused to enforce the Covid Pass scheme, which was brought in for all cinemas and theatres in Wales this month.
In support of the city council, the Welsh Government issued a directive ordering the premises to close under the Coronavirus Act 2020.
The mother-of-two reopened the next day and continued serving customers up until Sunday when the cinema held a screening of Dr Seuss’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas, an event which was sold out according to the cinema’s social media pages.
Swansea took the case to court in the hope it would force Ms Redfern to remain closed for a period.
The council’s solicitor Lee Reynolds said the premises presented a “clear risk to public health” and said Ms Redfern had not challenged any of the local authority’s reasonings for closure.
Describing Ms Redfern’s behaviour and that of her business, he said: “It’s very much ‘we don’t want to abide by the law, the law doesn’t apply to us, we’re above the law’.”
He continued: “The reality is we say, the way these premises are being run, it is as if Covid simply does not exist.
“The important point we rely upon, whilst it is accepted we will never be able to prove that the premises are infected, they may be infected.
“Businesses are given directions to minimise the risk of infection and contamination, and the way these premises are being run means they may be contaminated.”
Representing herself at the hearing, Ms Redfern called the attempt to close her cinema “illegal” and “fraudulent”, telling the judge: “I believe there is no case to answer.
“These allegations are not correct at all. I have a right to run my business. All I have done is give my customers the freedom of choice whether they want to come to my business or not.”
She claimed the closure of her cinema had caused a “ripple effect on the local community”.
But she did not dispute the council’s grounds for the application, which included not having risk assessments, hand-washing facilities, or hand sanitisation stations, or appropriate signage.
An application made by Ms Redfern to adjourn the hearing was denied by the judge.
Ms Redfern had not attended the previous hearing held last week which was adjourned after District Judge Neale Thomas requested further documents from the council.
The cinema owner said she objected to the intervention by the Welsh Government.
But Judge Thomas told Ms Redfern: “This application has been brought under an act of Parliament, it’s not a matter of the Welsh Assembly.
“You have to distinguish between what I’m being asked to deal with today and not the wider issues.”
Granting the application, Judge Thomas said: “It’s clear from the evidence, the local authority is trying to do no more than their job. To try and reduce the risk of a transmission of a disease.”
Ms Redfern was also ordered to pay the council’s costs of £5,265.
Asked by the judge if she had any comment to make about the fine, Ms Redfern said: “Well yes, I don’t want to pay them.”
Mr Reynolds asked the judge to urge Ms Redfern to adhere to the order, saying that if she continued to open she could now be found in contempt of court and put in prison.
“This was simply unnecessary. Had she (Ms Redfern) only worked with the local authority, this matter would have been dealt with a considerable time ago,” he said.
Mr Reynolds said the order was not an “attack” on cinemas in Wales, which he said had “behaved in an exemplary fashion”.
“This is about this premises in particular, and how this premises has been poorly run,” he added.