A black Rastafarian man is preparing to launch legal action against National Express for discrimination after he was kicked off a coach despite having a valid ticket, in an incident that the company has accepted was “handled incorrectly.”
North Londoner Gilbert Watt had booked the 2.30am service from Cardiff to London, in order to travel to work on Tuesday morning, following a visit to his partner in Barry.
The 58-year-old was challenged by the driver for not producing a hard copy of his ticket instead of the e-ticket that he’d presented on his mobile phone, as he has done numerous times before.
He was then told that he would not be able to take the journey, but he refused to disembark. The police were called and he was eventually escorted from the vehicle.
Watt told HuffPost UK: “I’m devastated, humiliated and upset. I can’t understand why they did this to me. They didn’t care about what was going to happen to me. I tried to plead with them not to eject me off of the coach because it’s not right. They didn’t listen and ignored me.
“I’ve experienced discrimination all my life – I could tell you countless stories. As a black, Rastafarian man it’s a tribulation I have to go through.
“By taking legal action and highlighting what’s happened to me, I would like to see that nobody goes through what I did. It’s not acceptable, in 2019, and we need to put a stop to discrimination.”
“If Gilbert had blonde hair and blue eyes he would have still been on that bus,” Watt’s partner Hilary Brown, 59, told HuffPost UK.
Brown, who is the CEO of legal firm Virgo Consultancy Services, explained that Watt called her and said that he was not being allowed to travel.
“When he told me the police are coming and there are two vans, my heart was in my mouth. I thought when I get there he’s going to be tasered, handcuffed or injured because I have no faith in the police and how they deal with black men, in particular.”
Following the 59-year-old’s arrival, she said she saw six people surrounding her partner – four police officers and two drivers. Having asked one of the officers what was going on, Brown was told that he had “attempted to travel without a ticket”.
Brown explained that the ticket had been sent to her email and she had forwarded it to her partner on WhatsApp. Watt’s e-ticket was in Brown’s name, but National Express’ terms and conditions say this is acceptable.
“I opened my phone and showed the officer the ticket had been sent to me and the link I had sent to my partner. He compared my phone with Gilbert’s and saw it was the same ticket.”
Brown said that when the officer spoke to the driver he claimed Watt had read out the wrong reference number – but he had shown the number to the driver too.
The couple complained to National Express, who accepted that Watt’s ticket was valid and that he should not have been removed from the coach.
A refund for his journey and 10 free complimentary tickets were offered and subsequently refused by Watt.
Brown said the company has failed to take into account her partner’s safety, rights and loss of a day’s earnings as a result of not being able to travel to London on that occasion.
“We are not doing this for any gain at all – we approached Lee Jasper and are speaking out now to raise awareness that this is not acceptable. Let’s hope that when we do what we’re going to do, it is the last time that this happens.”
She said the couple had also launched a complaint against South Wales police.
A National Express spokeswoman told HuffPost UK that the company takes any allegation of discrimination very seriously and does not condone it in any form.
She said: “Our investigation into this incident is not yet fully concluded but something clearly went wrong on this occasion. We have apologised to Mr Watt for his poor experience, and as a goodwill gesture while this is being investigated, have offered him a refund and ten complimentary journeys.
“Mr Watt did have a valid ticket and should have been allowed to travel. The situation was handled incorrectly and we are working to quickly understand why this happened and take any necessary actions to ensure it does not happen again.”
However, Watt and Brown are disappointed with what they described as an “unsatisfactory” letter of apology, sent via post and email on 30 January, and are preparing to take legal action against the coach company for discrimination under the terms of the Equalities Act.
The company apologised for a “poor” experience in the letter, seen by HuffPost UK.
“We see that you had a valid e-ticket for that service, but were refused travel. This is completely unacceptable and we are investigating why this happened to try to ensure that this does not happen again.”
A South Wales police spokesperson told HuffPost UK: “At around 2.20am on Tuesday, January 29 police attended Sophia Gardens to prevent a breach of the peace following a report of an aggressive man on a bus.
“No force was used, he left the location, and there was no further police involvement.”
The spokesperson confirmed that a complaint had since been received, and investigated, by the force’s Professional Standards Department
After reviewing body worn footage as part of this investigation, the force has concluded that “there is nothing to support the allegation that officers have racially discriminated against him,” a spokesperson said.
“The officers were courteous, professional and acted correctly in trying to resolve the situation.
“The dispute over the ticket remains a civil matter between Mr Watt and the bus company.”
Born in Clarendon, Jamaica, Watt is a part of the Windrush generation and moved to the UK at the age of 12.