Thames charter firm accused of racism after it refused to rent riverboat to soul and reggae party promoters
A Thames riverboat charter firm has been accused of racism after refusing to rent out their flagship paddle steamer to a group of men organising soul and reggae parties, citing "drug and violence" fears.
In a landmark legal action, four events promoters have taken Thames Luxury Charters Ltd (TLC) to court bringing claims under the Equality Act, insisting they were denied access to services simply because they are black.
Terry Reid, Orlando Gittens, Patrick Joseph and Henry Agwuegbo are suing the company which claims to have "the most elegant fleet" on the river.
The four men each made bookings which were cancelled after TLC claimed to have experienced trouble during a soul music event on one of their boats, involving Afro-Caribbean promoters.
But the company denies discrimination, insisting that the parties were cancelled solely due to a change of policy and a decision to take a "more cautious approach" to bookings.
Terry Reid, who is spearheading the action, told Central London County Court that he had booked TLC's largest boat, The Dixie Queen, a replica 19th Century paddle steamer, for a soul and reggae event on July 8 2017.
But the company subsequently told him his party on the river would not be going ahead, due to incidents on the Dixie Queen during an event some weeks previously.
The company said that trouble with "illegal drugs", "threatening behaviour" and unlicensed distribution of alcohol had led them to adopt a "cautious" policy towards future bookings.
In documents put before Judge Ian Avent, Mr Reid said: "They are discriminating against us as a group because of our race.
"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."
He added that some large parties had been allowed to go ahead, saying: "Only events planned by promoters of Afro-Caribbean or African descent were cancelled."
But barrister Harriet Fear Davies, representing TLC, denied the claims in the company's defence to the action.
"It is denied that Thames Luxury Charters Ltd withheld services from Mr Reid based on his race as alleged or at all, or that it acted in breach of the Equality Act," she said.
She said the decision to cancel the events was a pragmatic move by bosses, which was made for the good of the business and did not target Afro-Caribbean individuals.
She also denied that bosses at TLC were aware of the race of the people who organised the cancelled parties.
And she said the events flagged up by Mr Reid as having been allowed to go ahead were not waved through because the promoters were not black.
They were green-lighted because they involved organisers who had "regularly" hired boats from TLC before without any trouble being caused, she added.
Ms Fear Davies said the earlier event was "disorderly" and claimed that "on-board staff had concerns that illegal drugs were being consumed".
"There was threatening and abusive behaviour towards the defendant's crew and employees, alcohol was brought on board in a large box, which was placed in the area where the DJs were based, and distributed, possibly sold," she said.
If repeated, the situation could have resulted in the company losing its licences, which would be "disastrous" to its business, said the barrister.
"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," she said.
The case reached court for a brief pre-trial hearing and will now return at a later date yet to be set.