A CHRISTMAS-themed tourist attraction is being investigated after hundreds of complaints by families claiming it is a rip-off.

Lapland New Forest has been given an icy blast from families in south and west Dorset who are demanding their money back.

Hundreds of people complained to organisers on the opening weekend about the poor quality attractions and long queues at the Matchams park site near Bournemouth.

Tensions reached a peak when furious parents allegedly confronted ‘elves’ in a ‘gingerbread house’ and Father Christmas was punched in his grotto, according to angry customers.

The Dorset Echo has been inundated with complaints from people who visited the site.

Visitors the £30 entrance ticket – or £25 each for families of four or more – does not represent value for money.

Dorset Trading Standards Service has received complaints about Lapland New Forest and said that officers will be paying a visit.

The RSPCA is also involved after receiving more than a dozen complaints about the alleged treatment of animals at the site.

And an employment agency has pulled staff out amid fears for their safety.

Among the unhappy customers are Tamina and Adrian Powell from Upwey who took their two children aged seven and 12.

Mrs Powell said: “We paid £100 and I’m disgusted. It was an absolute rip-off.

“It was badly organised, the attractions were tacky and it was really expensive.

“Although the organisers couldn’t help the weather, the car park was a total mud-bath.

“But after paying all that money to get in we still had to pay for other attractions.

“Our kids didn’t bother queuing to see Santa because it was a two-hour wait. The presents they were giving out were toys from out-of-date films.”

Lisa Penny of Wyke Regis took her five children aged from five to 12 plus six other adults, paying £300. She said: “You want to give the kids the best you can and make Christmas special for them but I think it was the biggest waste of money ever.

Mrs Penny added: “The children were ushered in and out of Santa’s grotto. Santa and his elves were more interested in getting the photographs done, of which we had to pay £10 for the privilege. We couldn’t even take our own photos.”

Isobel Hollis from Herefordshire spent £90 on rides and attractions as well as £125 to take her family in.

She described Lapland New Forest as ‘starving husky dogs, burger vans, two reindeer, a plywood nativity scene set amongst a muddy scrambler course, tacky market stalls and a fair which charged £2.50 a ride.’ Wendy Parker, who runs Westhaven pre-school in Weymouth, organised a staff outing but was also left ‘bitterly disappointed.’ “The log cabins were sheds, the Tunnel of Light was a few fairy lights on trees and there was some fake snow sprayed on a few branches.”

Beverly Smith of Dorchester, who took her two children aged seven and four, said: “It felt as if the management took all our money and were laughing at us.

“It makes me so sad that people are spending their hard-earned money to be disappointed. People were complaining everywhere you looked and even staff were saying how awful it was.”

Eddie Teague of Dorchester said: “I was so annoyed after paying to take my grandchildren there and just standing in queues in the freezing cold. Even when we got to see Santa he didn’t look anything like Father Christmas and my grandson refused to have his picture taken with him.”

Amanda Goodenough of Blandford said her children were left ‘heartbroken.’ She described how her family queued for three hours to see Santa, only to then face another queue to claim a present.

Charlotte Connolly of Weymouth, who paid £385, said the food and drink was overpriced, the husky dogs were tied up by short chains, there was bad organisation and staff were ‘rude and unhelpful.’ Principal trading standards officer for Dorset County Council Mike Webber said officers will be investigating and visiting the site.

Officers will be particularly concerned with whether any misleading claims have been made in the promotional literature and website and whether or not consumers’ rights are being breached in terms of civil law.

Divisional trading standards manager Ivan Hancock said he had never known anything to spark so many complaints in 20 years.

“We will investigate what is on offer at the site. If we find that the company has been misleading people or there have been breaches of consumer rights we can take legal action. However, trading standards does not have the ability to shut the event down.”

Mr Hancock said officers would also liase with the local council about health and safety issues.

He added: “For now, we want people to be able to make a sensible judgement as to where they stand if they have bought tickets. For advice on this, they should call Consumer Direct.

“Ultimately if the company does not respond to customers’ complaints they may have to resort to the small claims court.

“People can rest assured that we are treating this very seriously given the number of complaints and that we will investigate and take appropriate action.”

The attraction is organised by Brighton-based Lapland New Forest Limited. Some of the staff were provided by an agency, Richard Events, which has since advised its staff to leave.

Lapland’s advertising chief, Henry Mears, was reported as blaming family illness and unreliable staff for the problems.

He said it had been a ‘very bad’ first day and apologised to the people affected.

Mr Mears was not available for comment yesterday and the attraction’s website was out of action last night. Customers who have complaints or need advice on how to reclaim money can contact Consumer Direct on 08454 040506.

n The Dorset Echo, along with sister titles, has taken the decision to no longer run adverts connected with this event.