When a Droitwich shop repeatedly breached Covid-19 lockdown rules it made national headlines – and polarised public opinion.
Grace Cards & Books owner Alasdair Walker-Cox was served with numerous prohibition notices and ended up being taken to court by Wychavon District Council where he was ordered to pay £35,000 in fines, plus £9,000 in legal costs.
Mr Walker-Cox, who abided by the first lockdown, had denied failing to comply with the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) Regulations between November and December 2020 and February and March 2021.
He had argued that his family-run St Andrew’s Square shop was an ‘essential’ service (like newsagents and convenience stores which were allowed to stay open) because it sold some food items and papers.
But District Judge Ian Strongman, sitting at Kidderminster Magistrates’ Court in August 2021, said the sale of Christian publications and, later, some national newspapers, did not give the business the same exemptions.
”The products Mr Walker-Cox had in his shop were not those of a food retailer but those of a confectioner,” he said. ”For example, if you sell a Mars bar in a shop, you are not a food retailer. Again, if a shop happens to sell a few newspapers, it is not a newsagents.”
The prosecution also alleged the decision to remain open was driven by financial reasons, referencing an email sent by Mr Walker-Cox to Worcestershire Regulatory Services in which he said the shop’s closure would leave him struggling to pay the shop’s rent.
Phil Merrick, of Wychavon District Council, commented: “We offered the shop help and support during the lockdowns, but they refused to take it. The law is the law and we have had to treat all businesses equally.”
Grace Cards & Books has been in Droitwich for 30 years and whilst its actions were denounced by many, others felt the lockdown rules were unfair to small businesses and applauded its stand.
Mr Walker-Cox and his wife Lydia even became figureheads for the anti-lockdown movement, with Mrs Walker-Cox appearing on The Great Reopening podcast shortly before the end of the third lockdown (watch it here).
Mrs Walker-Cox said: ”With the second lockdown we thought ‘oh my goodness, we’ve got Christmas coming up, it’s our best time of year’. We had thousands of pounds worth of stock and the Government weren’t offering enough to cover the rent, plus I’ve always been taught to earn my own living, not sponge off other people.”
Following the trial, Mrs Walker-Cox appeared on Talk Radio (watch it here) where presenter Julia Hartley-Brewer hailed her a ”hero” and added: ”I imagine an awful lot of my listeners… would probably like to help pay that fine.
”I know you’re not allowed to crowdfund to help pay a fine but I’m sure if you can leave my producers with a few details I’m sure some people, and I am among them, who would like to help contribute to that.”
Mrs Walker-Cox told her: ”We’ve had an enormous amount of support from local people. We’ve had a few haters, obviously, you always have the keyboard warriors, but we don’t take any notice of those.”
In this video shared widely on social media in February 2021, Ms Walker-Cox challenges an official from Wychavon District Council and a police officer.