Pupil sent home from school over afro hair called a 'stroppy teenager of colour' by barrister

·4-min read
(Kate Williams/Cornerstone Barristers)
Ruby Williams, left, was called a 'stroppy teenager of colour' by barrister Jon Holbrook, right. (Kate Williams/Cornerstone Barristers)

A barrister has been criticised after he called a girl who won a racial discrimination case against her school a “stroppy teenager of colour”.

Jon Holbrook’s comment on Twitter about Ruby Williams, who was repeatedly sent home from school because of her afro hair, has drawn anger from the legal community.

Responding to a tweet from the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) containing a video of her story, Holbrook posted last week: “The Equality Act undermines school discipline by empowering the stroppy teenager of colour.”

Last February, Ruby received £8,500 in an out-of-court settlement after her family took legal action against The Urswick School in Hackney, east London.

The EHRC had claimed she had been discriminated against on the basis of her race. She was sent home while studying for her GCSEs and the school used a Year 7 photo of her with straight hair for her Year 11 yearbook.

She said the school claimed her hair was “too big”, that it distracted other pupils and blocked views of the whiteboard in class. She said she had felt “humiliated” by the experience.

Ruby, now 19, is studying management with marketing at the University of Manchester.

Her mother Kate told Yahoo News UK: “As a family, we thank this man for choosing Ruby's case to criticise.

“Even the most racist person in the world couldn't defend how she was treated.

Watch: Teenager awarded payout over afro hair discrimination

“He has raised awareness for the campaign to end afro hair discrimination in UK schools. As a teacher, I now call on my profession to become as outraged about this as the legal profession has.”

Holbrook was condemned by several members of his own profession.

Barrister Alexandra Wilson tweeted: “I’m embarrassed to be in the same profession as someone like this.”

The Secret Barrister tweeted Holbrook, saying: “Your chambers has asked you to take this tweet down. Scores of your fellow professionals have asked you to take this tweet down. It remains up.

“The only inference I can draw is that you stand by its content. You are a disgrace to the Bar.”

Labour MP David Lammy said: “What a pathetic response from a barrister. No-one should be discriminated against because of their race, or because their hair is different. You shame the Bar and undermine your profession.”

(Kate Williams)
Ruby Williams won an out-of-court settlement after her school repeatedly sent her home because of her hair. (Kate Williams)

But Holbrook told Yahoo News UK on Tuesday: “My tweet drew attention to a serious political issue, namely the way that children of colour have been able to undermine school uniform policies by requiring them to be adapted to accommodate cultural difference.

“The charge of ‘racism’ is often used today to silence any criticism of ‘multiculturalism’.

“The attempt to cancel me, that is being led by the left on Twitter, shows how difficult it is to have a reasoned debate on issues connected with race.

“There are many activists who want to silence those who criticise laws that encourage cultural difference. When people are silenced, this is not good for democracy.”

(Cornerstone Barristers)
Barrister Jon Holbrook has refused to delete his tweet despite calls to do so from members of the legal profession. (Cornerstone Barristers)

Holbrook’s chambers, Cornerstone Barristers, said they had asked him to delete his tweet.

“We want to make it very clear that Cornerstone Barristers repudiates the contents of the tweet and all that it insinuates,” it said.

“The contents of the tweet do not in any way reflect the views of Cornerstone Barristers.

“The individual has been asked to delete the tweet immediately and permanently and we are undertaking an urgent internal investigation into the matter.”

The Bar Standards Board said it “does not comment as to whether or not it has received any information about potential misconduct by a barrister regardless of how any information comes to our attention”.

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