Couple claim lifeguard at Bexhill pool made racist gestures

An outraged couple claim a lifeguard at a local swimming pool made racist and anti-Islamic comments and gestures against them.

Neaal Blake, 35 and his 26-year-old wife Sophia, of Cornfield Terrace, St Leonards, were with their four children at Bexhill Leisure Pool in the Ravenside Retail Park when the alleged incident happened.

Mrs Blake claims the lifeguard made the racist gestures at her husband, a converted Muslim, when he saw his Arabic tattoo on his back, which is the Fajr, or ‘dawn prayer’, the first of the five daily prayers offered by practising Muslims.

She said: “As my husband got out of the pool to go on the slide with my four-year-old son Isa, one of the lifeguards was looking at Neaal’s tattoo, went to his colleague and started taking the mickey by mimicking the loud war cry used by Islamic terrorists. He then did a gesture with his hands minicking a bomb exploding.

“I was very shocked and had a go at him but he had nothing to say. I asked to see the manager to make a complaint. It was the first day out swimming as a family and we feel we can’t go back there.”

She added the lifeguard was suspended for five days and later made a complaint to the police after the alleged incident, which happened on August 6.

Mr Blake said: “I felt disgusted when my wife told me what happened. In this day and age you don’t expect this to happen at a public swimming pool, especially when you’re with your family. We don’t feel we can return to the pool.”

A spokesman for Freedom Leisure said: “Upon receiving Mrs Blake’s complaint we immediately removed the lifeguard from Bexhill Leisure Pool and carried out an investigation. The employee denies making any racist comment or gesture. He does admit to noticing the tattoo and making a comment about its size to a colleague. On investigation this was confirmed by the other employee.

“Freedom Leisure has cooperated fully with police in its enquiry, who seem satisfied with the action that has been taken. We have an equality policy and staff have received training in equality and diversity. We are disappointed that a customer has felt that a racist comment was made and would like to be clear that racist behaviour would not be tolerated from staff or customers. However compliance with employment law means that it would also not be appropriate to dismiss an employee on the basis on one unsubstantiated allegation, which appears to be the remedy that Mrs Blake is seeking.”

A Sussex Police spokesman confirmed Mrs Blake had lodged a complaint but did not wish to make a crime report.

Hastings & St Leonards Observer, 16 September 2013