Butlin's and Pontin's accused of keeping secret 'blacklists' of Traveller families

Watchdog investigates two cases of families from Traveller background whose attempts to book holidays were rejected

The UK’s human rights watchdog is examining allegations that Butlin’s and Pontin’s are keeping secret “blacklists” of Irish Traveller families, allowing staff to refuse them entry to their holiday camps.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has been informed of two cases involving families from a Traveller background whose attempts to book holidays through the companies were rejected, The Independent understands.

One involves John O’Leary, from Camden, in north London, who booked and paid for a holiday at Butlin’s over Christmas for himself, his wife and children and other family members. Six days before they were due to leave, he received a letter informing him that his holiday had been cancelled because he was not on the electoral roll.

“We are on the electoral register – we have lived in the same house in Camden for 20 years,” Mr O’Leary told the Travellers’ Times magazine. 

In an attempt to salvage his holiday, Mr O’Leary says he telephoned the manager of the holiday camp and offered to bring along identification documents – but was told that police would be called.

“They threatened to get me arrested if I showed up with my documents. They said I was not welcome in any of their camps,” he added. When he contacted Pontin’s, a rival holiday camp operator, Mr O’Leary claims he was told his name had been “flagged up on the computer” and that he would be unable to book through it either. He says that when he asked why he had been rejected, the operator told him he was not obliged to say.

web-butlins-bogna.jpg

The Butlins resort in Bognor Regis

Mr O’Leary, who is currently taking legal advice on the matter, described the two firms’ actions as “discrimination” and said he believed they were consulting “some kind of Traveller blacklist”. As Travellers are officially recognised as an ethnic minority in the UK, discrimination against them is illegal.

The second case involves Margaret Doran, from St Albans, who also tried to book a Christmas break at Butlin’s for her family but claims she was refused as she did not appear on the electoral register.

“All of us were devastated, my children were so looking forward to going there. The first thing I thought was that it must be discrimination – it has to be,” she said.

The Traveller Movement charity, which made the complaint to the EHRC on behalf of Mr O’Leary and Ms Doran, said it had “serious concerns” about both cases.

The EHRC confirmed that it had received a complaint about potential discrimination against Travellers and was “looking into” the matter.

Pontin’s did not respond to a request for a comment, but a spokesman for Butlin’s said: “As with all large party sizes for breaks around the festive period, our terms state that all UK-based adults in the party must appear on the electoral register… It is essential that we can be certain who our guests are. The safety and security of all those who visit a Butlin’s resort is our primary concern.”