'By no means did we intend to break the law’

A GENUINE misunderstanding of the Bailiwick’s Covid-19 rules led to eight yachtsman being treated leniently by Guernsey’s courts and fined £1,000 each for breaching isolation rules by landing in Sark.

The pontoons in the Victoria Marina saw the biggest number of visiting boats for more than a year following the change in travel restrictions. (Picture by Peter Frankland, 29722291)
The pontoons in the Victoria Marina saw the biggest number of visiting boats for more than a year following the change in travel restrictions. (Picture by Peter Frankland, 29722291)

The men, seven Dutchmen and a Frenchman, aged between 45 and 62, were friends who go sailing every year in a rented boat.

They said that they had looked at a UK-based website to find out information about Covid-19 and, having always believed that all the Channel Islands fell under one jurisdiction, thought the rules on the Government of Jersey website also applied to Sark.

All admitted breaching Covid rules by failing to self-isolate when they appeared in the Ordinary Division of the Royal Court yesterday.

Crown Advocate Chris Dunford, prosecuting, said that the eight had visited various French ports before heading to Sark and going ashore, where they were seen in a pub by one of the island’s constables.

After establishing that they had arrived on a yacht, they were taken to the island’s community health centre for a Covid-19 test and later escorted by the Leopardess to St Peter Port harbour in their boat, where they isolated until receiving negative day seven tests.

During interviews with police, they all explained the research they had done and their understanding of the island’s governance.

They also said that there should be signs at landing points in Sark, explaining the restrictions for incoming yachtsmen.

The advocate said that following a recent similar case, signs were ordered but had not been installed until a few days after the men visited Sark.

Advocate Sara Mallett represented all eight men and stressed that this was not a flagrant breach of the rules, as had been seen previously in the island.

She read out a letter written by the men in which they apologised for all the trouble they had caused. ‘By no means did we intend to break the law,’ they said.

All had taken a voluntary Covid test before setting out on their trip.

She explained something of the personal situation of each man and said that as well as the cost of any fine and the loss of income from not being at work. They would also have to pay 3,000 euros for another weeks’ hire of the boat, and could face a compensation claim from the person who was supposed to have had it after them.

None had previous convictions.

In imposing a total fine of £8,000, Judge Russell Finch said that in light of the circumstances he would be lenient on this occasion.

‘I want it clearly understood that this is not a change in the court’s sentencing policy,’ he said. ‘It reflects the individual facts of this particular case where we all agree there is substantial mitigation.’

Had this been a deliberate breach, the fine would most likely have been at least four times higher, he said.

. Guernsey Harbours saw 24 vessels arrive in 24 hours from Thursday, and took payment for 67 nights’ berthing.

On yesterday’s Condor sailing, about 500 passengers and 200 cars were estimated to have arrived.

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