According to The Guardian, the Maida Hill Market Square in north-west London had been the location Ernest Theophile and his friends met to chat, socialize and play games including dominoes, cards, and backgammon. That had been their meeting spot over the last 12 years. But in January 2021, the council stopped them from gathering at the square because of noise complaints and issues relating to antisocial behavior. The council claimed over 200 complaints had been made.
And though a judge in March 2021 amended the order to allow the group to return to a specific location at the square, they were told they could be jailed if they were seen “playing loud amplified music, drinking alcohol, shouting or swearing.”
Theophile moved to take the council to court. He argued the council’s decision was racist because it discriminated against Caribbean culture. Theophile and his family immigrated to the United Kingdom from Dominica in the 1950s. That was during the Windrush period.
“If you are West Indian, you just can’t play dominoes without making a bit of noise,” said Theophile. He also said he had frequented the location almost his whole life and the gatherings helped prevent people from experiencing social isolation, The Guardian reported.
Judge Heather Baucher at the central London county court on Friday determined that the Westminster council erred as it did not take equality into account when it arrived at the decision. Judge Baucher said the council’s ban was “flawed” and “untenable.”
“There has been a complete failure by Westminster city council to recognise and comply with the equalities obligations owed to the West Indian community. Instead, the council rushed to draconian measures by seeking an injunction backed up by a power of arrest, which could have seen my client sent to prison,” Theophile’s lawyer, Anne McMurdie, said.
Lawyers for the council had argued officials did not have to heed guidance saying equality matters had to be taken into consideration because it was “seriously wrong.” But the Baucher dismissed their argument. Theophile’s lawyers will now work on getting an injunction tossed out during a court appearance next month.
“The loneliness was one of the biggest factors as to why we gather there. That’s why the square [is] ideal for us,” Theophile said. “Sometimes the younger generation come here and congregate, but we just want a place where we can socialise and play a few games to pass the time.”
Meanwhile, Westminster city council spokesperson said they “recognise and accept the judgment of the high court.”
“This is the first time that we have been asked to apply equalities law when applying for an injunction, which is why we had previously not sought one,” the spokesperson added. “We maintain and continue to believe that our actions have always been in the best interests of local residents, who have been plagued by antisocial behaviour and criminality.
“However, the council is reviewing its approach to this case with the new administration looking to find a solution that works for the whole community.”