Friends who claim they were blocked from hiring Thames riverboats because they are black launch race discrimination legal fight

Four friends who claim they were blocked from hiring luxury Thames riverboats for parties because they are black have launched a race discrimination legal fight.

Terry Reid, Orlando Gittens, Patrick Joseph and Henry Agwuegbo say their bookings with Thames Luxury Charters Ltd (TLC) were axed after the company claimed to have experienced trouble during a soul music event involving Afro-Caribbean promoters.

The four friends have no connection with the organisers of the earlier event — other than their ethnicity — and now suing under the Equality Act 2010, insisting they were denied access to services simply because they are black. TLC denies discrimination or that “the race of the promoters...played any part in the decision-making process” when the bookings were scrapped. The company argues the cancellations were solely due to a change of policy to take a “more cautious approach” to bookings.

Mr Reid told Central London county court he booked TLC’s largest boat, a replica 19th-century paddle steamer called The Dixie Queen, for a soul and reggae party on July 8 2017.

But he said the company cancelled the event blaming difficulties during a previous event on the same boat, citing trouble with “illegal drugs”, “threatening behaviour” and unlicensed distribution of alcohol.

Mr Reid and his friends, who also had reggae, soca, and soul events cancelled by TLC, say they were told large ticketed events featuring guest DJs from organisers who were unknown to the company were now being rejected. “They are discriminating against us as a group because of our race,” said Mr Reid. “The incident which caused them to change their policy...involved promoters who were Afro-Caribbean breaking the terms of their contract by re-selling alcohol on the boat.

“The only connection or similarity between the promotion that occurred and the subsequent events that were cancelled was the ethnicity shared between the promoters. All were black, of Caribbean or African descent.”

Harriet Fear Davies, representing Thames Luxury Charters Ltd, denied the company had targeted black people in its more cautious approach, arguing bosses were unaware of some of the promoters’ race when axing the parties.

She told the court the change of policy came after a “disorderly” event, with concerns of drug-taking onboard, which could have put the company’s licences in peril.

Ms Fear Davies added: “As a consequence of the event...and the risks that event had exposed its business to, the directors of the company reviewed its policy in relation to hiring out its vessels.”

Mr Reid and his friends are also claiming breach of contract, and will return to court later this year for a full hearing of the case.

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