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Council and bus operator to pay out £109k in damages and costs to religious organisation over refusal to advertise rally

Blackpool Council and its wholly owned company Blackpool Transport Services have been ordered to pay £109,000 in damages and costs to a religious organisation run by evangelist Franklin Graham after refusing to advertise a rally on buses.

In April this year HHJ Claire Evans ruled that the council and the bus operator breached Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights and discriminated against Mr Graham and the 2018 Festival of Hope in relation to Article 10 rights.

She said the council had the burden of proving that interference with their Article 10 rights was justified, and that taking all factors into account, “the balance comes down overwhelmingly in favour of the claimant”.

The £109,000 comprises £25,000 in damages and £84,000 in costs but is inclusive of VAT which can be recovered. The £95,000 will be split between the council and Blackpool Transport Services.

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The council has also been required to publish an apology. In a statement on its website Cllr Lynn Williams, Leader of Blackpool, said: “On 10 July 2018 Blackpool Council and Blackpool Transport Services Limited made a joint decision to remove advertisements promoting the Lancashire Festival of Hope, due to be held at the Winter Gardens between 21st & 23rd September 2018, from BTSL’s buses and trams. This followed complaints from some members of the public about certain religious beliefs, in particular concerning same-sex relationships and same-sex marriage, expressed (or believed to have been expressed) on previous occasions by the main speaker, Franklin Graham.

"We accept that the advertisements were not in themselves offensive. We further accept that in removing the advertisements we did not take into account the fact that this might cause offence to other members of the public and suggest that some voices should not be heard. We also regret that we did not consult with the organisers prior to taking our decision.

"We accept the findings of the Court that we discriminated against Lancashire Festival of Hope because of the religious beliefs of Franklin Graham and in doing so interfered with Lancashire Festival of Hope’s right to freedom of speech.

"We sincerely apologise to the organisers of the event for the upset and inconvenience caused.

"We have learnt from this experience. We are committed to ensuring equality of access and opportunity for the population of Blackpool and providing and improving quality services for all. We have now introduced clear and transparent policies that will ensure no repeat of events such as these.”

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