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Caterer denies breaking Covid rules and says 'they should have arrested Santa' after cops' grotto bust

'But why am I the only one being prosecuted? Why are they not prosecuting Santa or his elf?'

Jane Manders

By Steven Moore

Controversial catering boss Jane Manders told a court this week cops should have arrested Santa and his elf instead of her during a Covid "grotto bust".

Manders, who runs a catering business from her home in Kells, Co Antrim, appeared at Ballymena Magistrates Court on Thursday where she's facing two charges of contravening Covid regulations and failing to comply with a Prohibition Notice on November 22, 2020.

And during the hearing the mum-of-four threw Santa under his sleigh!

After the hearing, the 40-year-old mum-of-four told the Sunday World cops had swooped on Santa's grotto "as if it was a drugs bust".

"The cops burst into the grotto as if it was a drugs bust and told Santa they were going to arrest him," she told us.

"There was a kid on his lap at the time, it was ridiculous. I know it sounds funny, but it wasn't at the time. I'm a chef and was cooking in my house when I heard the commotion and a mum came to get me.

"I had a heated argument with the police officer who was telling Santa he was going to be arrested for breaching Covid regulations. I was saying 'are you serious? Are you really going to arrest Santa when he's making kids happy?'

"Then they said they were going to arrest me for illegal activity, so I went and sat in the cops' car and said 'come on then, let's go, take me to the station' - but he ordered me to get out and got his sergeant on the phone instead.

"The grotto was completely legal but the issue was that in November 2020, just after things had been allowed to open up, the government changed their minds and closed things for a two-week circuit break.

"The sergeant asked me to just move the bookings from that week to a couple of weeks later which I agreed to do and there was no issue.

"Then the cops, within 15 minutes, tell me they are fining me £1,500, then they said they were fining me another £3,000 and then they said they were also prosecuting me.

"But why am I the only one being prosecuted? Why are they not prosecuting Santa or his elf?"

Having dismissed her legal team last week after they had advised her to plead guilty, she appeared in front of Judge Nigel Broderick representing herself.

She told the court she was denying the charges and there would be six witnesses at the contest hearing when it takes place later this year.

Jane's home in Kells, County Antrim

During the hearing she asked the judge why she was being prosecuted and when papers were handed over to her it emerged the charges relate to the holding of a Santa's Grotto experience on land at her home in Shanksbridge Road.

She told the judge: "This is to do with Santa's Grotto, why am I being prosecuted over this, I had nothing to do with this."

The judge replied: "It might do you no harm to read those papers as they might explain why you are in court."

She replied: "I'm a chef and we turned our catering business into a business delivery service - the Santa's Grotto was run by someone else.

"I got called into it because the police barged in while a child was on Santa's lap. I only went to see what happened as the child was upset. Santa and his elf and the photographer should be getting prosecuted instead of me."

The judge admitted there could be some "duplicity" and cross-over between the fixed penalties and the court prosecution and asked for Mrs Manders' phone number so the PPS could phone her to explain.

After the hearing, Jane Manders admitted to us the grotto was on her land and she was making profit from the business but felt she was not solely responsible for it.

"I'm not pleading guilty to something I didn't do," she reiterated. "My legal team wanted me to plead guilty but I refused and I sacked them.

"The police seem to have it in for me. I get a lot of bad press but nobody mentions the 1,400 free school meals we gave out for free during the lockdown or the free session we gave to under-privileged and disabled kids.

"I'm making a stand here because others were involved."

Jane found herself in trouble earlier in the pandemic when she pleaded guilty to engaging in 'street trading without being the holder of a street trading licence' following an investigation from Mid & East Antrim Borough Council who found two catering vans operating on the road outside her home.

The council wrote to her on two occasions requesting trading to stop. When cautioned, bodycam showed Manders saying: "I am not accepting it. I am not accepting anything you are giving me and I am not going to stop."

She was further prosecuted for threatening a journalist though the charge was dropped after she accepted a charge of Improper Use of Telecommunications.

"Yes I did threaten that journalist," she told us candidly, "And I would do it again."

Jane's case has been adjourned for two weeks.

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