Merlin Inns, based in Cranleigh, Surrey, pleaded guilty to 10 offences at Redhill Magistrates' Court on Tuesday (4 April 2016) and was fined £90,000 and ordered to pay costs of £28,500.
Three designated premises supervisors for the pubco, which operates 14 sites, also pleaded guilty to a total of three offences and were each fined £600 and a victim surcharge of £60.
Individuals and companies
The record punishment demonstrates how pub companies, as well as individuals, can face criminal records and stiff financial penalties for illegally screening matches.
The convictions were carried out by the Federation Against Copyright Theft (FACT).
Stephen Gerrard, prosecuting manager at FACT, said: "Regrettably for Merlin Inns, they chose to ignore official notices alerting them to their illegal activity and refused advice to legitimise their behaviour. Now the company is left with a substantial fine and three employees with criminal records.
"This result should serve as a strong warning to any pub company or employee thinking of bypassing the legitimate process to think twice about their actions. It is a criminal offence which the courts, FACT and Sky take incredibly seriously.
"Merlin Inns have also short-changed law-abiding pubs in the area, who legitimately pay commercial Sky subscriptions and are potentially losing customers to venues screening matches illegally."
Sky said the action forms a key part of Sky's commitment to protecting pubs who invest in legitimate Sky Sports subscriptions.
Sky is committed to visiting every licensed premises reported by other publicans and/or organisations for illegally showing Sky and will visit more than 700 pubs each week in towns and cities across the UK this season.
Alison Dolan, deputy managing director at Sky Business, said: "The significant penalty applied in this case not only demonstrates how seriously the courts take the issue of fraudulently screening TV programmes, but also indicates just how significantly the suppliers of illegal equipment have been misleading publicans.
"Anyone choosing to believe these suppliers, or who has been offered any kind of guarantee from an illegal supplier should take note: these suppliers cannot stop pub companies as well as individuals from getting a criminal record, as this latest result now shows.
"The courts continue to send a clear message to publicans who consider fraudulently screening TV programmes in their venue – if you choose to televise content illegally then you run the very real risk of being caught and face substantial penalties and a criminal record."
Any licensee can report suspected illegal broadcasting in confidence at http://business.sky.com/fighting-fraud.
The pubs caught playing Sky Sports without a licence were:
- Sir Douglas Haig, The Street, Effingham, Surrey, KT24 5LU – DPS Claire Jones
- The Cranley Hotel, The Common, Cranleigh, Surrey, GU6 8SQ – DPS Stephen Dobson/PLH MERLIN INNS LTD
- The Three Horseshoes, Sunbury Road, Feltham, Greater London, TW13 4PE – DPS Antony McCarthy/PLH MERLIN INNS LTD