Preston gym owner loses battle to remain open during lockdown as court order closes his premises

A gym owner who continues to flout Government rules has been hit with a compulsory closure on his premises after flouting previous interventions.

Friday, 5th February 2021, 5:46 pm

To help limit the spread of coronavirus, gyms across England have been shut since November 5, but Steven Todd, 55, who runs Reps Gym in Preston, has continued defying Government rules - despite being hit with £1,000 fines - claiming it is important' for people's mental health.

People have travelled from as far as Liverpool to use his facilities.

Todd says he isn't bound by coronavirus legislation and had signed two affidavits - sworn statements - indicating he does not believe he has contractually agreed to comply with any of the coronavirus regulations with the council,.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Steven Todd of Reps Gym

The court heard he had accepted government cash help under coronavirus regulations during lockdown one.

He appeared at Preston Magistrates' Court on behalf of his business, Reps Gym on the Roman Way Industrial Estate, which has been issued with several prohibition notices by Preston City Council since October for flouting Covid-19 restrictions.

The authority has now applied for a three month closure order citing three aspects - serious public nuisance caused by opening the gym, likely disorder and criminal behaviour.

He argues the council's response is "disproportionate and heavy handed".

Prosecuting for the council, Sarah Clover said the authority served a closure notice on February 4 .

She added: " There has been a protracted history which has already attracted a range of enforcement interventions which have not included any direct interventions preventing public access.

"It hasn't worked and Mr Todd persists in opening the premises."

Defending, Tom Lord, said Todd believed the "construction of the legislation" was improper and on dates when they visited, Mr Todd had signed two affidavits he offered to Lancashire Constabulary.

Sgt Scott Archer, of Lancashire Police, was called to give evidence.

Referring to Sgt Archer's statement he said: " There are numerous entries in it from the service of the closure notice, to back before Christmas, throughout which, and I'm focusing here on the serious public nuisance aspect, you make reference to distressed residents, without providing further details as to age, name and location.

"There are repeated references to members of public contacting police and being unhappy

"Reps Gym is situated on an industrial estate, geographically separate from any residential area. On one side is a motorhome seller and on the left is Livesey Poultry business.

"How do you say that phone calls from unspecified members of public specifying unhappiness constitutes serious public nuisance?"

He questioned if people expressing frustration and unhappiness about the gym being open constituted serious public nuisance, and told the court Mr Todd it did not.

Regarding allegations it could cause likely disorder, Mr Lord told the court Mr Todd had himself rang police to report repeated phone calls from an anonymous man, who lives out of the area, making threats to burn down his gym due to him opening in lockdown.

He added: "Mr Todd's case is that the mental health aspect of gyms outweighs regrettably the negative sides of shutting them down, that they should remain open because of the impact of closing them is having on members of public and mental health."

Council officer Marie McCracken, denies the gym owner's claim that she told him he could claim Universal Credit when he expressed concerns about his business during a visit.

Mr Todd himself was then called to give evidence and told how he had said to her: " I've had my business 33 years if I lose that I'll be on the street."

He appeared to break down at one point.

He went on to refer to "young people in our society", adding: " They got to be able to meet their friends, they've got to be to do these sorts of things."

The prosecutor quizzed him about risk assessments or health mitigation in the gym and said: "Quite a lot of people on social media have expressed anger to you because your business remains open while theirs has to close."

He replied he saw ten times more people in the supermarket than his gym and had hand sanitizer and 2 metre signs in place.He told the court taking a £6,000 government grant "would have been the easy way out" but could have meant a young person taking their own life.

District Judge Joanne Hirst asked how he felt his views on the legislation tallied with taking financial help under coronavirus legislation during lockdown one.

In judgment she said she was satisfied he had engaged in criminal behaviour and was likely to continue to do so, that his views were "misguided", and that he had actively encouraged others to breach the regulations.

She added: " Whilst many people are sympathetic to these views, it is a fact nobody can opt out of legislation simply because they don't agree with it.

"In this particular case this legislation is there to protect the health of the public and of the nation.

"We are living in a country where we have seen more than 100,000 deaths. Lancashire has one of the highest infection rates in the country.

"You have actively encouraged people to travel from outside the local area."

She said the matter had been magnified by the high profile nature of his views and attempts to keep flouting the law, and that "given his entrenched stance" she had no alternative.

She also ordered the firm to pay £9,090 costs.

The Lancashire Post is more reliant than ever on you taking out a digital subscription to support our journalism. For unlimited access to Lancashire news and information online, you can subscribe here.