Butlin's reported to Equalities watchdog over “Traveller blacklists”

8 January 2016
Butlins reported to Equalities Commission

The Traveller Movement has complained to the Equality and Human Rights Commission on behalf of Irish Traveller John O’Leary from Camden, London, who was refused service by two holiday camp operators and who claims he is the victim of “discrimination” and has fallen foul of a “blacklist of Traveller names.”

Mr O’Leary booked and paid for the holiday in September for himself, his wife and children and for other members of his immediate family. They were planning to have a change and spend the Christmas break together in a Butlins Holiday Camp.

Instead, their Christmas was “ruined” when they received a letter– addressed directly to Mr and Mrs O’Leary  - six days before they were due to go, telling them that the holiday had been cancelled because they were not on the electoral register.

“We had already started packing, getting the presents ready to take with us, the children were looking forward to it and then the letter arrived telling us we couldn’t go,” says Mr O’Leary. “We are on the electoral register, we have lived in the same house in Camden for 20 years. If they had a problem then why didn’t Butlin's contact us before? Why take three and a half months?”

Mr O’Leary then tried ringing the manager of the holiday camp and offered to take the proof of the address and identification documents of all the family members he had booked to his office but was told that if he did so they would call the police.

“I wasn’t angry or shouting,” says Mr O’Leary. “I thought it was something that could be sorted out. I was in shock when I realised that they were not going to be reasonable. Instead they threatened to get me arrested if I showed up with my documents. They said I was not welcome in any of their camps.”

“I am a hard-working man, none of my family have ever caused trouble for Butlin's or anywhere else in the past. I’ve never even been there before.”

Mr O’Leary then tried to book with Pontins, the rival holiday camp operator, in an effort to salvage the families holiday but was refused service there as well.

“I tried to book over the phone but the man said the O’Leary name had flagged up on the computer and he wasn’t going to book the holiday. I asked why and he said I don’t have to tell you that.”

“This is discrimination,” says Mr O’Leary. “I reckon our name is on some kind of Traveller black list. They ruined our holiday and I will see them in court or whatever it takes.”

The Travellers Times contacted Butlin's and a spokesperson said: "Our terms and conditions have been in place for many years, and guests regularly return year after year and enjoy family holidays with us.

"As with all large party sizes for breaks around the festive period, our terms state that all UK-based adults in the party must appear on the Electoral Register. For those who live outside the UK, we ask for proof of address for all adults in the group.

"It is essential that we can be certain who our guests are. The safety and security of all those who visit a Butlin's resort is our primary concern.

Any issues Mr O'Leary may have encountered with any other companies obviously has nothing to do with us, and is not something we would comment upon."

A spokesperson for the Traveller Movement said: “We have recently had a similar case involving the refusal of service to a Traveller family by Butlin's and have heard anecdotally of others – including the refusal of service to a Romany Gypsy family.”

“We have serious concerns about Mr O’Leary’s case and the procedure that Butlins followed when cancelling his bookings and have made a formal complaint on Mr O’Leary’s behalf to the Equalities Commission. The information about Pontins is equally alarming, and in fact sounds extremely ominous, and we will be investigating that further and then deciding whether to take out a similar complaint against them.”

“We believe that in the 21st century no one should be refused service because of their race, sexual orientation or creed. Our new social justice unit has been set up to identify and fight cases of discrimination against Irish Travellers and Romany Gypsies. If necessary and when appropriate, we will assist the victims in seeking justice in the courts.”

By Mike Doherty/TT News