Sussex Pontins holiday park used blacklist of ‘undesirable guests’ to exclude Traveller families

Holiday firm Pontins has signed an agreement to prevent racial discrimination after the company was found to be operating a discriminatory booking policy that excluded guests with specific surnames.

Pontins at Camber Sands ENGSUS00120140801133945
Pontins at Camber Sands ENGSUS00120140801133945

An investigation by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) found Pontins which operates a holiday park in Camber Sands, East Sussex, operated ‘discriminatory practices’, including an ‘undesirable guests’ list.

The list of 40 names, headed ‘Undesirable Guests’, instructed call handlers to decline bookings from guests with one of the surnames listed.

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The list of mainly Irish surnames included Boylan, Boyle, Carney, Carr, Cash, Connors, Corcoran, Delaney, Doherty, Dorran, Gallagher, Horan, Keefe, Kell, Leahy, Lee, MacLaughlin, McAlwick, McCully, McDonagh, McGinley, McGinn, McGuiness, McHarg, McLaughan, McMahon, Millighan, Mongans, Murphy, Nolan, O’Brien, O’Connell, O’Donnell, O’Donoghue, O’Mahoney, O’Reilly, Sheridan, Stokes, Walch and Ward.

The EHRC started its investigation after receiving information from a whistleblower, employed by Pontins, in February 2020 who alleged the company operated a discriminatory booking policy that excluded Gypsies and Travellers.

The EHRC’s investigation also found Pontins monitored calls within its contact centre and refused or cancelled any bookings that were made by people with an Irish accent or surname; and used its commercial vehicles policy to exclude Gypsies and Travellers from its holiday parks.

The list published on the company’s Intranet advised call handlers: “If you find any undesirable guests trying to book then we need to refuse the booking using our T&C.”

Alastair Pringle, Executive Director at the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said: “It is hard not to draw comparisons with an ‘undesirable guests’ list and the signs displayed in hotel windows fifty years ago, explicitly barring Irish people and Black people. Banning people from services based on their race is discrimination and is unlawful. To say that such policies are outdated is an understatement.

“It is right to challenge such practices and any business that believes this is acceptable should think again before they find themselves facing legal action. We will continue to work with Pontins and Britannia Jinky Jersey to ensure that our agreement is adhered to and its practices improve.”

The agreement struck between Pontins and EHRC is in place from February 22, 2021, and will be monitored by the EHRC to make sure the agreed actions are completed.

If Pontins does not adhere to the terms of the agreement, EHRC said it has the power to launch a full investigation under section 20 of the Equality Act 2006.

A spokesman from Britannia Jinky Jersey, the owners of Pontins, said: “Britannia Jinky Jersey Limited has agreed to work together with the Equality and Human Rights Commission to further enhance its staff training and procedures in order to further promote equality throughout its business.”

The agreement requires Pontins to ‘conduct an investigation’ into the ‘undesirable guests’ list to ensure appropriate action is taken within the organisation and that lessons are learned.

Pontins must also commission a review of its current intelligence system, booking policies and commercial vehicle policy, provide enhanced training on equality law and appoint Equality, Diversity and Inclusion champions across the organisation.

The chief executive of the Traveller Movement, a charity which promotes community engagement with Gypsies, said the case was ‘truly shocking’ but added they were ‘not surprised’.

Yvonne MacNamara said: “We frequently hear of Gypsies and Travellers being turned away from holiday parks because of their ethnicity. This happens across the country on a regular basis; it is unlawful and unacceptable.

“We hope this legally binding agreement leads to better practices, and we also hope other holiday providers will think twice about enacting similar policies. We encourage others to come forward and seek assistance if they experienced similar issues. We also commend the bravery of the whistle-blower, as well as the investigation by the Equality and Human Rights Commission.”