A decision by the European Court of Human Rights to snub British law and rule that a Bradford bus driver should not have been sacked from his job because of his BNP membership came under fire last night.
Arthur Redfearn, who represented Wibsey ward on Bradford Council for the far-right party for two years, lost his job in 2004 shortly after he won the seat.
He had been working for West Yorkshire Transport Service for seven months, driving vulnerable adults and children to schools and day centres.
He was sacked by his employer Serco on the grounds that his views presented a health and safety risk as many of his passengers were Asian.
But after a long-running legal battle, the Strasbourg court yesterday said that dismissing Mr Redfearn from his job breached his right to freedom of association under Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
Bradford South MP Gerry Sutcliffe criticised the decision which he said failed to take into account the district’s diverse community. “I think the company did the right thing sacking him” Mr Sutcliffe said. “I’m sad the European Courts have decided to overturn the ruling because it’s not reflective of the make-up of our community where we want to have tolerance of all society. It will re-open old wounds that don’t need to be opened.”
Disabled Mr Redfearn, who was 56 at the time of his dismissal and has an artificial leg, initially claimed race discrimination, but an employment tribunal dismissed this finding instead saying that it was on health and safety grounds as his “continued employment could cause considerable anxiety among Serco’s passengers and their carers and there was a risk that Serco’s vehicles could come under attack from opponents of the BNP”. This was later overruled by an appeals panel in 2005.
The following year the Court of Appeal allowed Serco’s appeal finding that Mr Redfearn’s complaint was of discrimination on political grounds and not racial grounds, which fell outside of the anti-discrimination laws.
Mr Redfearn, a former skills instructor and college lecturer, of Great Horton, could not claim unfair dismissal as he had not completed one year’s service with the company. He was also refused leave to appeal to the House of Lords, but vowed to take his case to the European courts, with an appeal on the BNP website helping to fund his legal bills.
In its judgment the European Court states: “The court was struck by the fact that he had been summarily dismissed following complaints about problems which had never actually occurred, without any apparent consideration being given to the possibility of transferring him to a non-customer facing role.
“In fact, prior to his political affiliation becoming public knowledge, neither service users nor colleagues had complained about Mr Redfearn, who was considered a ‘first-class employee’.”
It added: “In a healthy democratic and pluralistic society, the right to freedom of association under Article 11 must apply not only to people or associations whose views are favourably received or regarded as inoffensive, but also to those whose views offend, shock or disturb.”
“It was therefore the United Kingdom’s responsibility to take reasonable and appropriate measures to protect employees, including those with less than one year’s service, from dismissal on grounds of political opinion or affiliation.”
A spokesman for Serco said: “We are aware of the initial ruling that has been made by the European Court of Human Rights concerning the case of Arthur Redfearn and we will now review and digest the findings.”