RNIB wins ruling for barred guide dog owner

Maria Clegg

RNIB is celebrating a landmark legal victory after a restaurant owner in Watford was ordered to pay £900 compensation to the owner of a guide dog who was told he couldn't bring his dog into the restaurant.

A judge at Watford County Court also ordered that there should be a declaration of discrimination and said Leigh Hutchings should be allowed to enter the restaurant with his guide dog in future.

This is the first mandatory injunction against a restaurant owner brought under the Disability Discrimination Act, and the RNIB provided free legal representation to Hutchings. Catherine Casserly, legal officer for the RNIB, said the case sent a powerful message to service providers who persistently breach the Act.

The restaurant owner, who claimed in court that he was afraid of dogs, could be given a prison sentence if he continues to refuse to serve Hutchings, who was a regular customer at the restaurant under its previous owner.

Hutchings explained to the new owner that guide dogs were exempt under the Act on his first visit. He was served on that occasion, but when he returned a month later with friends, the owner turned the group away, saying that he did not have to allow the guide dog in.

"I was very lucky that the RNIB took the case," said Hutchings, "Catherine wasn't very optimistic about our chances of winning. We had to pull her off the ceiling when the court's ruling was made. Everyone asks when I'm going back, but I think I'll wait for the dust to settle first."

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