A GOLDEN Valley landlord who let customers light up in defiance of the smoking ban will have to pay a heavy price after a top judge’s ruling.

Tony Blows even enjoyed a cigarette himself in the bar room at the Old Dog Inn, but now faces fines and legal bills totalling almost £17,000 for his trouble.

Undercover trading standards officers kept covert watch in the Ewyas Harold pub in August 2007 after a member of the public complained that customers were smoking.

After a three-day trial before a district judge, Mr Blows was convicted in March last year of two counts of allowing his customers to smoke in what should have been a smoke-free zone.

He was also found guilty of smoking in the pub himself and was hit with a total £1,075 fine.

But Mr Blows suffered even more pain when he was ordered to pay £10,807 legal costs.

He challenged the costs at London’s High Court on Tuesday, claiming they were “grossly disproportionate” and accused Herefordshire Council of using heavy-handed surveillance tactics against him, more appropriate for dealing with terrorists.

However, the publican was sent packing by two top judges – and was ordered to pay another legal bill, this time for £5,000.

Barrister John Dyer, for Mr Blows, argued the £10,807 costs bill was “manifestly excessive”

and out of all proportion both to the fines imposed and the seriousness of the case.

The publican was subject to an Individual Voluntary Arrangement with his creditors at the time and simply did not have the money to pay the bill, he told the court.

Mr Dyer also argued that the “zealous” surveillance methods used by the council – using powers under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 – along with the scale of the prosecution were over the top.

However, dismissing his appeal, Mr Justice Tugendhat said it had been “reasonable and necessary” to prosecute Mr Blows and there was nothing disproportionate about the council’s handling of the case.

The exceptionally high legal costs of the prosecution were in part due to Mr Blow’s own detailed questioning of council witnesses and the raising of legal points that had no reasonable prospect of success, he added.

The judge, sitting with Lord Justice Richards, said the district judge had also found that Mr Blow’s evidence about his means was “incredible and unreliable”.

On top of the fines and legal costs he was ordered to pay by the district judge, Mr Justice Tugendhat ordered the legally aided publican to pay another £5,000 towards the costs of this week’s hearing.