A Muslim man has launched a discrimination case against the holiday company Butlins after he claims his teenage daughter was barred from using the dodgems because she was wearing a hijab.
Moammer Nasser, 41, a family-support worker from Birmingham, is bringing a claim for racial and religious discrimination after the incident at Butlins in Minehead in June.
Nasser was at the holiday resort with his wife and four children. He was waiting to use the dodgems with his 16-year-old daughter when an attendant said she could not go on the ride because she was wearing a hijab, and cited health and safety concerns.
Nasser complained and asked to see a policy banning hijabs at Butlins. He asked why others wearing various forms of scarves and headgear had not been similarly banned from using the dodgems on the same grounds.
“I was shown a safety code which stated that some disabled guests or those with physical injuries may not be able to use rides safely,” Nasser said. “But wearing a hijab is not a disability or a physical injury.
“We were humiliated in front of other fairground users. My daughter was crying at the gate of the ride, making her feel very stressed and upset.
“People were looking at us as if we were criminals, being stopped and questioned by the ride attendant, followed by a supervisor and the fairground manager coming out to speak to us whilst people stared and looked at my family, probably assuming that we had done something wrong.”
Nasser said he and his family were so distressed by the incident that they curtailed their holiday and left the resort a day early.
“During our stay at the resort there was another lady who was wearing a scarf around her neck and was allowed on the rides; many people were wearing hoods and the tie strings were hanging … yet they were still allowed on the rides,” Nasser said.
He lodged a formal complaint with Butlins. Jan Axten, of Bourne Leisure Ltd, replied, saying it was company policy that no one could go on the ride if they were wearing a headscarf or loose garment which could not be removed.
This, Axten said, was due to a “previous very serious incident” in 2016 when a scarf around a visitor’s neck had come loose, got caught in the chassis and caused a serious neck and throat injury.
She said Butlins was disappointed that Nasser felt his daughter had been deliberately treated unfavourably because of her hijab and sent “sincere apologies”.
Nasser’s lawyer, Attiq Malik, of Liberty Law, said: “It is of great concern that we may have a situation where whole families are having their holidays ruined and unable to participate in leisure activities because of their cultural or religious dress. Whether this is a deliberate act to discriminate against people, or an unfortunate consequence of health and safety policies, it is unsatisfactory and unacceptable.”
Nasser, who has launched a crowdfunding campaign to support the legal action, said his daughter’s hijab had no trailing parts that could have caused health and safety concerns.
“The hijab covered her face and neck. It was raining so she was wearing a jacket and so the part of the hijab covering her neck was tucked into her jacket,” he said.
A Butlin’s spokesman said: “Our team are trained not to compromise when it comes to the safety of our guests. In this instance our team member quite rightly put the guest’s welfare first and judged that loose headwear could have caused a risk if caught in moving bumper cars.
“There was no question of discrimination and any suggestions of this are utterly rejected in the strongest terms. We are sorry if the family feel they were badly treated. We explained our policies to them at the time, in writing afterwards and also to the Equality Advisory Support Service, who have told us they are satisfied with the explanation given to them.”
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