Ted Cooke wins poppy discrimination case against Belfast bar's former owners
A former police officer who was denied entry to a Belfast bar for wearing a poppy suffered discrimination, Belfast County Court has ruled.
Ted Cooke won a declaration that the former owners of the Northern Whig pub acted unlawfully on the basis of his religious belief and political opinion.
Mr Cooke was turned away from the city centre premises last November.
He was on a shopping trip with his wife and daughter when door staff at the pub refused to let them in to buy lunch.
The family were refused entry because they were wearing remembrance poppies.
Mr Cooke was backed by the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland in taking his discrimination case to court.
He issued proceedings against Botanic Inns Ltd, the pub chain that owned the Northern Whig at the time.
With the company having since gone into administration, Mr Cooke dropped his claim for damages.
However, his lawyers argued that being turned away from the bar constituted indirect discrimination.
It was contended that the poppy is an emblem worn predominantly by the unionist or Protestant community.
The actions of the door staff responsible was discriminatory under the Fair Employment and Treatment Order, according to his case.
In his ruling, the judge held that denying him entry and service indirectly discriminated against Mr Cooke.
"The defendant company has not sought to put forward an adequate explanation for its conduct, nor has it attempted to prove that it did not commit or is not to be treated as having committed the unlawful act," the judge said.
"In the circumstances, the plaintiff is entitled to his declaration that the defendant company committed an unlawful act by virtue of the indirect discrimination against him on the grounds of his religious belief and political opinion."
Mr Cooke was awarded legal costs and a token £1 in damages.
Following the verdict, the former police office said he brought the case to challenge the idea that the poppy should be treated as a sectarian symbol.
"I was angered and embarrassed by the incident," he added.
"I was going in with my wife and daughter to have lunch on a Saturday afternoon shopping trip.
"The doorman told us we could not go in as we were wearing poppies and we were so shocked we just turned and went out," Mr Cooke said.
Eileen Lavery, head of advice and compliance at the Equality Commission, said her organisation had assisted Mr Cooke in the challenge because it believed barring him from the premises in these circumstances was unlawful discrimination on grounds of religious belief or political opinion.
"The poppy, although not directly linked to a specific religious belief or political opinion, would historically have been associated to a greater extent with the Protestant or unionist community in Northern Ireland," she said.
"In our guidance to employers, the commission makes it clear that the wearing of poppies, in a respectful manner and within the appropriate period, should not be regarded as something which would cause offence."