The Free Speech Union chalked up another victory yesterday after the Employment Tribinal ruled that Simon Isherwood, a rail conductor, had been unfairly dismissed by West Midlands Trains (WMT). His sin was to question the premise of an online diversity course he’d just taken on ‘white privilege’. After the course concluded, he forgot to disconnect from Teams and turned to his wife and said: “I couldn’t be arsed because I thought, ‘You know what, I’ll just get f***ing angry.’ You know what I really wanted to ask? … and I wish I had, ‘Do they have black privilege in other countries? So, if you’re in Ghana? …’”
Some of Mr Isherwood’s colleagues complained and he was suspended laster that day. He was then subject to a disciplinary investigation and eventually fired for gross misconduct. But WMT hadn’t reckoned on the fact that Mr Isherwood is a member of the Free Speech Union. We found him a top human rights lawyer in the form of Paul Diamond, brought a claim for unfair dismissal in the Employment Tribunal and paid all his legal expenses. Yesterday, the judge ruled in his favour, saying,
Freedom of expression, including a qualified right to offend when expressing views and beliefs (in this case on social issues), is a fundamental right in a democratic society and one that is protected by the Convention rights under the Human Rights Act 1998. In this instance however there is the added significance that these views were being expressed in the privacy of the claimant’s home to his wife. They were never intended to be heard by those who attended or ran the course… Whilst undoubtedly contentious, the remarks he expressed (albeit in an unguarded fashion because they were made to his wife) were akin to expressions of views not infrequently heard on radio and television or read in some newspapers. A significant section of society may of course disagree with those views, consider them narrow minded and may also take offence at them but undoubtedly there will be another section of society who hold a contrary view.