Gay couple end hotel payout claim

A homosexual couple who successfully sued the Christian owners of a hotel who refused them a bed are withdrawing a claim for more compensation, the Equality and Human Rights Commission said today.

Peter and Hazelmary Bull were ordered to pay £3,600 for denying Martyn Hall and his civil partner Steven Preddy a double room at their B&B in Cornwall in September 2008.

In the landmark ruling in January at Bristol County Court, Judge Andrew Rutherford awarded Mr Preddy, 38, and Mr Hall, 46, who were represented by the taxpayer-funded Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), £1,800 each.

He said he took into account the fact the couple were acting on their "genuine" Christian beliefs about marriage when deciding the level of damages.

Lawyers for the gay couple then submitted documents to the Court of Appeal claiming the religious beliefs of Mr and Mrs Bull should have been disregarded, calling for the damages to be increased.

But today the EHRC said the cross appeal was an "error of judgment" by its legal team and was being withdrawn.

Legal director John Wadham said: "This morning we withdrew our cross appeal in this case.

"It was filed initially because of an error of judgment on the part of our legal team.

"They submitted the cross appeal in an attempt to clarify the law around how damages are calculated in cases such as this.

"This resulted in it appearing that Steve Preddy and Martyn Hall were seeking to increase the amount of damages they receive because Mr and Mrs Bull's Christian beliefs had led them to break the law.

"This was not our intention and it was certainly not the intention of Steve and Martyn.

"I would like to confirm that public money will not be spent funding a claim for increased damages in this case."

Mr Preddy and Mr Hall said: "We brought this case to clarify the law, not to make money.

"We have always believed that the original award was a fair one, and are not seeking any further compensation."

The Bulls denied the original claim, saying they have a long-standing policy of banning all unmarried couples, both heterosexual and gay, from sharing a bed at the Chymorvah Private Hotel in Marazion near Penzance.

Mr Bull, 70, and his wife, 66, said their policy, operated since they bought the hotel in 1986, is based on their beliefs about marriage and not a hostility to sexual orientation.

The hotel owners' legal bills, which are believed to have been in excess of £45,000, were footed by the Newcastle-based Christian Institute, a charity that defends the religious liberty of Christians.

Christian Institute spokesman Mike Judge said: "We are pleased that the Commission has seen sense and withdrawn their demand for a stiffer penalty against Mr and Mrs Bull.

"However, this U-turn has come only after negative publicity. Last week the Commission had to apologise for saying Christian foster parents may 'infect' children with their moral values.

"The Commission's approach to these equality cases has seriously damaged Christians' confidence in the Commission as an impartial defender of everyone's human rights.

"A great deal of damage has been done."

Mrs Bull said: "It is obviously a relief that we are not being pursued in the courts for more money.

"But I can't imagine this taxpayer-funded 'error of judgment' happening to anyone other than Christians."