London: Pensioners who have been banned from playing loud dominoes are allowed to play again

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Ernest and his friends have regained the right to play dominoes without fear of arrest (Images: Champion News)

A black pensioner has won a racial discrimination case after a judge overturned a council’s unlawful ban on playing dominoes with friends in a London square.

Westminster Council took Ernest Theophile, 74, and others to court last year and obtained an injunction banning social gatherings in Maida Hill Market Square.

The area is a popular place for members of the West Indian community to meet and play traditional games.

The council claimed Ernest and his friends played too loud and upset local residents, but Ernest said enthusiastic gaming was just a characteristic of West Indian culture.

The ban was later relaxed, allowing Ernest and his friends to return to the pitch, but with the threat of jail if they were caught “playing loud amplified music, drinking alcohol and yelling and swearing”.

Last month, Ernest won a ruling that the council failed in its duty to consider the racial equality rights of Ernest and his friends when he applied for the injunction.

Now a judge at Central London County Court has thrown out Westminster Council’s injunction outright, handing victory to Ernest and friends.

The council previously said it had received more than 200 complaints from local residents about anti-social behavior, with at least one local resident claiming he had been forced to move home because of the noise in the square.

Champion News: 07948286566/07914583378 Pictured is Ernest Theophile (far left) and friends playing backgammon in Maida Hill Market Square.

Ernest Theophile (far left) and friends play backgammon in Maida Hill Market Square (Image: Champion News)

Complaints from neighbors focused in part on the clatter and thud of dominoes, traditionally a source of passionate frustration and joy in Caribbean culture.

As a result, council officials claimed there was an “anti-social” element to the gatherings in the square.

But Ernest’s attorneys argued that even the watered-down restraining order still had a massive “dampening effect” on his freedom to enjoy the court and play his beloved dominoes properly.

His attorney, Tim James-Matthews, argued that the order – which threatened imprisonment if Ernest disobeyed – was “likely to be indirectly discriminatory”.

“Although the application appears to be ‘neutral’, the majority of those whose behavior is restricted by the injunction share a protected characteristic: race,” he added.

“An injunction restricting the activities of a minority of black people in a public place where there is theoretical authority to arrest and imprison is indirectly discriminatory.”

Champion News: 07948286566/07914583378 Picture shows Ernest Theophile outside the Royal Courts of Justice.

Ernest said you can’t play dominoes without making “a little noise” (Image: Champion News)

In May, Judge Heather Baucher ruled that Westminster Council had failed to properly consider its “duty to equality in the public sector” before taking action against Ernest and others in the square.

But the case returned to court this week when Ernest’s legal team successfully dealt a final blow to the council’s request for a full injunction.

Justice Baucher ruled that Ernest had an “absolute defense” of the case against him and that the Council’s attempts to demonstrate that he had complied with his non-discrimination obligations were “retrospective”.

While she did not believe the Council was “in bad faith”, she said it implemented and obtained an injunction “without legal basis” and was “likely to be indirectly discriminatory”.

She ordered a “summary judgment” against the council – scrapping his case before it even went to court. The municipality must also bear the court costs.

Ernest, whose family came to Britain from Dominica in the 1950s as part of the Windrush generation, said he and a group of older friends had gathered in Maida Hill Market Square, north London, for the past 12 years.

“If you’re a West Indian you just can’t play dominoes without making a bit of noise,” he said.

“It’s part of my culture to spend time playing dominoes and backgammon with other West Indian men my age in the community where I grew up.

“A lot of people I know on the pitch have mental health issues and are socially isolated, but they know that when they come onto the pitch they can relax by sitting on the benches and talking to other people.

“It keeps us sane.”

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Justin Scaccy

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