Police investigate 'homophobic' guest house Swiss B&B

By Martin Halfpenny,Press Association
Monday 22 March 2010 18:07

Police were investigating an alleged "homophobic incident" today after a gay couple claimed they were turned away from a bed & breakfast.

Michael Black, 62, and John Morgan, 56, from Brampton, Cambridgeshire, said the owner of the Swiss B&B in Cookham, Berks, told them it was "against her convictions" to let the pair share a bed.

They reported the incident to police, and yesterday Thames Valley Police said: "The call has been logged as a homophobic incident.

"As the people live outside of the force area, we have asked Cambridgeshire Constabulary to speak to the individuals concerned."

The gay couple arrived at the guest house near Maidenhead on Friday and were met outside by the owner Susanne Wilkinson.

"She could see through the windscreen that we were two men," said Mr Black.

"And when we got out of the car she was immediately distant and unfriendly and then she said, 'It's a double room', and we said 'Yes'.

"She said, 'It's a large double bed in a double room' and we said, 'yes', and then she said it was against her convictions to let us stay."

He went on: "We said it was illegal to discriminate against people who stay in hotels because that's all we knew at the time and she said it was her private home and it was against her convictions.

"She said she was sorry and she was polite in a cold way and she was not abusive, so we asked our money back and she gave it to us."

Mr Black said the couple were "very angry". They then met friends nearby and went to the theatre but decided to drive the 80 miles back to their home with their "adrenaline pumping".

"We were very shocked, and of course angry, that it happened. Neither of us has ever experienced homophobia before and I have been out since 1974.

"We felt we were treated like lepers and not fit to be under the same roof as her."

Mr Black said Mrs Wilkinson has said the men should have warned her, but the self-employed trainer said: "It would be like saying to someone who runs a guest house, 'I'm black or Muslim or blue-eyed' just in case they have a problem with it.

"There is no reason why we had to make it clear we were two men in this day and age. We have stayed in plenty of guest houses in Britain and abroad and have never had a problem."

Mr Black said the couple had been interviewed by Cambridgeshire police after they first complained to Thames Valley Police online.

He said they had been advised the offence would be treated as a civil matter and they should take Mrs Wilkinson to county court.

But Mr Black said he understood that under the Equality Act 2006 it is illegal to discriminate against people on the grounds of sexual orientation, even in a guest house.

Mrs Wilkinson was not answering her phone at the guest house last night.

But earlier she told BBC News she had turned the men away.

"They gave me no prior warning and I couldn't offer them another room as I was fully booked.

"I don't see why I should change my mind and my beliefs I've held for years just because the Government should force it on me," she said.

"I am not a hotel, I am a guest house and this is a private house."

On the bed & breakfast's website, the first paragraphs read: "A warm and friendly welcome awaits all guests at Susanne Wilkinson's Swiss Bed & Breakfast in the idyllic village of Cookham, near Maidenhead in Berkshire.

"This Swiss-English family offers first class hospitality in their spacious and comfortable home to business, tourist or family visitors from all around the world. English, French and German spoken."

A spokesman for Stonewall, the gay rights campaign group, said turning a couple away because of their sexual orientation was illegal.

Derek Munn, director of public affairs, said: "Stonewall was delighted when the law changed in 2007 so that lesbian and gay couples could go on their holidays like anyone else.

"In open-and-shut cases of discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation the law's quite clear - it's illegal for businesses to turn away gay customers or discriminate against them when providing goods or services, and this can't be overridden by personal prejudice."