A taxi driver refused to pick up a blind war veteran because he had a guide dog.
Cabbie Emmanuel Osayande has been ordered to pay £1,000 in fines and court charges after he was prosecuted by Manchester city council for breaching equality laws.
He also faces the possibility of losing his licence.
Father-of-five Neil Eastwood, who was left severely sight impaired after an accident in 2005, said he was left ‘annoyed, embarrassed and ashamed’.
Under the Equalities Act 2010, blind people cannot be refused access or service – or given substandard access or service – simply because they have a guide dog.
Council chiefs fear many cases go unreported and urged anyone in a similar situation to come forward so investigations can be launched and action taken through the courts.
Mr Eastwood, 56, from Wythenshawe, served in Northern Ireland with the 1st Battalion, the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, during the seventies.
He’s now an active member of the charity Blind Veterans UK and spoke out to raise awareness and urge other guide dog users to report any similar issues they suffer.
Osayande, 56, of Chatwell Close, Salford, had been sent to collect him from his son’s house in Wythenshawe in February and take him to a hotel in Altrincham.
Mr Eastwood, who relies on Lenny his golden labrador retriever, said: “I rang the office and told them that I had a guide dog and told them to make sure that the driver was aware.
“The company by mistake sent two taxis and they both came almost simultaneously. I approached the first one that I saw come in. He had his window down and shouted ’sorry, I am not taking you’. He said that he would not take my dog.
“I told him that he was a working guide dog but he said he did not care.”
Mr Eastwood quoted the law but Osayande, who holds a hackney carriage licence with Rossendale council but was working for a local private hire firm, refused to take them.
He reported the matter to the council after the second taxi took him back to his hotel.
Mr Eastwood said: “It is a life-knocking experience that really should not be an issue in this day and age. I want to praise the council for their hard work in this case. The message has got to go out to other councils that they should always take action in these cases.
“It happens all the time all over the country and we shouldn’t tolerate it. Drivers could simply put down a cheap blanket in a footwell – it’s that simple.
“Most taxi companies are brilliant but this does happen and far too often. I want guide dog users to know they have options. They should know that it must not be tolerated and above all, these things shouldn’t stop them from going out.”
Taxi drivers can apply for exemptions if for example they can prove they are allergic to dog hair. The council said Osayande was invited to an interview to discuss the incident but failed to attend then didn’t attend Manchester magistrates’ court.
He was found guilty in his absence of refusing to carry an assistance dog under section 168 of the Equality Act 2010, fined £500 with costs of £500 and a £50 surcharge.
Councillor Nigel Murphy said: “Assistance dogs are indispensable for many people with visual impairments allowing them a level of independence that might otherwise be impossible – so it is vital that both hackney and private hire vehicles allow passengers with assistance dogs.
“I hope the severity of this fine reminds all drivers of their responsibilities.”