Delegates at an annual conference for Irish travellers have been awarded a total of £24,000 for the “distressing experience” of being refused entry to a Wetherspoon pub because of “racial stereotyping”.
The incident happened at The Coronet on Holloway Road, north London, in November 2011 and involved the Irish Traveller Movement in Britain – now known as The Traveller Movement.
The Central London County Court was told the group included travellers, a police inspector, a barrister and a priest.
Pub owners JD Wetherspoon denied allegations of discrimination on the grounds of race and ethnic background.
But today Judge John Hand QC ruled that pub manager David Leach, who has since died, made “stereotypical assumptions” about Irish travellers and Romany gypsies.
Mr Leach refused entry to groups of delegates, saying he was concerned there might be trouble because the conference at the travellers’ Resource Centre next to the pub was focusing on evictions from the Dale Farm traveller site in Essex.
He was also concerned because there had been previous disturbances at the centre in 2005 – before it was used by travellers – during an anarchist book fair which led to people needing hospital treatment.
But the judge, sitting with assessor Charmaine Brown, said Mr Leach’s actions amounted to direct discrimination in the provision of services by Wetherspoon, contrary to the Equality Act 2010. He awarded £3,000 compensation for “injury to feelings” to eight individual claimants turned away at the pub door.
The judge said: “In my judgment the whole thinking of Mr Leach... was suffused with the stereotypical assumption that Irish travellers and English gypsies cause disorder wherever they go.
“In my judgment this is a racial stereotyping of those with that ethnic origin.
“It can be reduced to this crude proposition: whenever Irish travellers and English gypsies go to public houses violent disorder is inevitable because is how they behave.”
There was also the false understanding that protesters from Dale Farm had been invited to the conference and the organisers were encouraging them to do so.
The judge also ruled that those attending the conference who were not from a traveller or Romany background also suffered direct discrimination because they were “associated with people” from that background.
Mrs Brown agreed. She said there had been less favourable treatment based on stereotypical assumptions.
Martin Howe, a solicitor with Howe & Co who acted for the travellers, said: “This judgment will shake to the core all those who engage in racist conduct towards Irish travellers and Romany gypsies.
“The last bastion of ’acceptable racism’ has come crashing down.
“Shops, restaurants, supermarkets, hotels, clubs and pubs will now realise that treating gypsies and travellers as second-class citizens is an affront to their dignity that is no longer tolerated.
“This is a watershed day when gypsies and travellers no longer have to move on but can hold their heads high in the knowledge that there is equal treatment for all.”
Tim Martin, chairman of Wetherspoon, said: “Wetherspoon apologises to the eight individuals who were denied entry and for any upset and distress this caused to them.
“It is the first time that a claim of this nature has been brought against the company in the 35 years of its existence.
“In the light of the judgment, though we have always been fully committed to operating our premises in a non-discriminatory way, we will undertake a full review of our relevant policies, procedures and training.”
Mr Martin also pointed out that the judge had found JD Wetherspoon did not have a discriminatory motive and its door staff did not act in an aggressive or hostile manner.
He also criticised the level of court costs incurred by the travellers’ lawyers as “astronomical and unjustified”, saying: “Even before the trial started, over £700,000 worth of legal costs had been incurred by them.”
Mr Martin said he welcomed a change in the law which meant that lawyers “can no longer recover these enhanced success fees”.