Steel band were taken off flight on suspicion of being terrorists

When five members of the Caribbean Steel International Orchestra queued to board their Ryanair flight home from Sardinia last New Year's Eve, they had reason to be content. The London-based steel band had just been lavished with critical praise for its performance at a world music festival on the Italian island.

But that satisfaction evaporated rapidly shortly after the British musicians took their seats for the two-hour journey to Stansted airport. They found themselves being escorted off the plane by armed police on suspicion of being terrorists, seemingly for the offence of reading out the football scores to a blind colleague.

Now the group is suing the budget airline for compensation after its crew members allegedly refused to let them back on to the flight after they had proved their innocence, forcing the men to miss their planned New Year's Eve celebrations with their families on 31 December 2006. They did not arrive home until 2 January, after a circuitous and costly journey that involved taking the only available flight on New Year's Day, to Liverpool, and paying their train fare to London.

The five men are claiming £800 from Ryanair to cover the cost of their tickets and the inconvenience they suffered. Their county court case to be heard at the Mayor's and City of London court on 28 November.

The incident, at Sardinia's Alghero Airport, happened after another passenger claimed the musicians were acting "suspiciously" as one member of the band read aloud some football scores to Michael Toussaint, a leading steel band musician and the only blind professional tenor drum player in the world, as the plane waited for take off. Italian airport police were called and they asked all five men to leave. Mr Toussaint produced his disability card and removed his glasses to prove his blindness.

The group were told by the Italian authorities that they were free to continue their journey, but it is claimed Ryanair refused to allow the men to rejoin the flight.

One of the musicians, Jason Constantine, 43, from Norwood, south London, told the Evening Standard: "It's a disgrace. This stemmed from one man who created a situation that led to five people being wrongly accused and stranded when we should have been with our families on New Year's Eve. There was a lot of confusion when the Italian police came on. They were holding guns and didn't speak English. It was very distressing. Even after Michael proved he was blind, they still wouldn't let us fly. We were the only black people on the plane and I see no other reason than racism."

Ryanair offered the men compensation of £100 each and flight vouchers. But Mr Constantine said: "I'm appalled by the way Ryanair has acted. It is not really about the money. It is the principle." Ryanair declined to comment yesterday, saying the matter was sub judice.

The people vs Ryanair

* In 2003 the company was reprimanded by the ASA for misleading passengers over which airports it serves. The airline claimed to fly to dozens but in fact lands at small airfields up to 70 miles away.

* In 2004 the airline was forced to pay Bob Ross £1,336 in compensation after charging him £18 to use a wheelchair.

* In 2005 British tourists at a fog-bound airport in Italy had to spend £5,000 on a coach home after being told it would be five days before they could get another flight.

* Last year up to 130 customers were stranded in France on Christmas Day when their flights were cancelled due to poor weather conditions.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Ed Miliband (R) and Boris Johnson, mayor of London, talk on the Andrew Marr show in London April 26
General electionAndrew Marr forced to intervene as Boris and Miliband clash on TV
peoplePair enliven the Emirates bore-draw
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark episode 8, review
United States President Barack Obama, right, uses actor Keegan-Michael Key from Key & Peele to play the part of 'Luther, President Obama's anger translator'
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions