Hotel owners 'set up' by gay couple who sued
Monday 13 December 2010
A gay couple suing the Christian owners of a seaside hotel may have booked a double room as a "set-up", a court heard today.
Martyn Hall and his civil partner Steven Preddy, from Bristol, have lodged a claim for up to £5,000 in damages from Peter and Hazelmary Bull, alleging sexual orientation discrimination.
But the Bulls deny the claim under new equality laws, 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, Cornwall.
Mr Bull, 70, and his wife, 66, say their policy - operated since they bought the hotel in 1986 - is based on their beliefs about marriage and not a hostility to sexual orientation.
Today, at Bristol County Court Bernie Quinn, who works at the hotel, hinted that Mr Preddy and Mr Hall's booking was a set-up.
Mr Quinn explained that gay rights organisation Stonewall had written to Mr and Mrs Bull a month earlier advising them of new equality legislation.
He told the court that hours before Mr Preddy had made a telephone booking in September 2008 he spoke to a "Mrs Preddy" regarding a double room.
The claimants' barrister, Catherine Casserley, asked Mr Quinn: "Are you suggesting this claim was a set-up?"
Mr Quinn agreed and added: "It is not beyond the realms of possibility. I have no proof other than the phone call.
"I cannot assume for them what their motivations were or weren't. I assumed, going back to the phone call, that we were expecting a Mr and Mrs Preddy and what arrived was two gentlemen."
Explaining her and her husband's faith, Mrs Bull told the court: "We accept that the Bible is the holy living word of God and we endeavour to follow that."
Mrs Bull said the hotel's policy was not to allow unmarried couples - of either sex - to share a double room or a twin room and that had been in place since 1986.
The couple's faith meant they did not believe in sex before marriage and would not allow it under their roof, Mrs Bull said.
She said that if heterosexual couples turn up, having booked a room, they take their word for it that they are married.
Mrs Bull explained that she took Mr Preddy's booking over the telephone when she was ill and because of her illness she did not explain the hotel's policy.
"I said to Mr Quinn that I had let a double room for tomorrow night and I had forgot to go through the policy with them and immediately Mr Quinn reassured me that everything was going to be OK because of the previous phone call," she told the court.
"I would have said immediately there is no way I would have let them make the journey to our door only to be disappointed.
"We were very surprised when the two gentlemen turned up the next day."
The hearing heard that the semi-detached hotel has seven rooms in total - three doubles, one family room, two twins and and single - with the Bulls living on the ground floor.
Their legal defence is being supported by the Christian Institute.
Making legal submissions, their barrister James Dingemans QC said: "It is not part of the defendants' case to undermine the rights of same-sex partners.
"The defendants do submit their policy is directed to sex and not sexual orientation and is lawful."
Mr Preddy told the court he had booked a room over the phone after looking at the hotel's website and had not seen its room policy, which was displayed only on its booking form.
When he and Mr Hall arrived at the hotel he said they did not see any prominent Christian tapestry in the hallway.
"When we arrived we spoke to a lady and she got Mr Quinn to come and talk to us and explain the hotel's policy," he said.
"I would say the body language wasn't great and it was clear we were not welcome in the hotel.
"It's fair to say he didn't raise his voice."
Mr Preddy said both he and his civil partner were members of Stonewall but they had no knowledge of the organisation contacting the hotel before their visit.
After being turned away, they reported the Bulls to the police, the court heard.
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