28th September 1909

London solicitor appears in Jersey court for non-payment of bill

London solicitor Kenneth Houston brought his wife, children and a nurse for a month-long stay at the Pomme d’Or Hotel – and left without paying his £73 bill. He’d offered £65 instead, claiming that several items that appeared on the bill had either been overcharged or paid for in advance.

Mr Mourand, proprietor of the Pomme d’Or wasn’t going to accept underpayment of more than 10%, so had Houston arrested and marched off to prison. Initially, this seemed to have done the trick as Houston agreed to pay the bill in full, plus costs and was permitted to travel back to the mainland.

Give Jersey to the French

The Sporting Times of 2 October was horrified that a hotel guest could be arrested for not paying their bill, and commented that, “it seems to us that the Jersey laws need altering or the island should be avoided. Better hand it over to the French.”

However, Houston wasn’t going to go quietly, and he threatened to sue the Bailiff and Mr Mourand for illegal imprisonment as it wouldn’t have been possible to force him to pay more than £60 had the incident occurred on the mainland. The matter ended up in the Royal Court where it was explained that Houston had found the rooms he had been given too small. He was upgraded to larger rooms but, when the hotel tried to charge him extra as a result, he refused to pay the full amount. Moreover, he had consistently refused to pay for any drinks served to him in the garden, always insisting that they be added to his bill when the usual rule was that they should be paid for upon delivery.

Bookkeeping questioned

Much of the legal back and forth concerned itself with the price of drinks at the hotel and why the books recording what Houston and his family had consumed seemed to be inaccurate. The solicitor general then asked why any hotel should have a right to sell drinks at a considerable mark-up, seemingly ignoring the fact that the difference between the wholesale price of a drink and the price at which it’s sold to a customer also needs to take into account the cost of running the hotel, paying staff and more.

Several other hoteliers spoke on behalf of the Pomme d’Or hotel, claiming that they, too, varied the prices of their drinks depending on where they were served, and saying that the price charged for the rooms Houston had occupied were entirely reasonable.

As the hearing drew to a close, the court agreed that Houston had perhaps been overcharged, but only very slightly. It ruled that his bill should be reduced from the £73 18s charged, to £72 and that if it wasn’t paid Houston should be sent back to prison. Having no other choice, Houston settled his bill, with costs on top.


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