Blind Paralympian 'might sue' M&S for telling him to leave guide dog outside five times

Blind Paralympic British skiing champion John Dickinson-Lilley and picture of M&S shop at Charring Cross where staff challenged him on his guide dog
John Dickinson-Lilley was in tears after the incident at Charing Cross on Friday (Picture: John Dickinson-Lilley/Google)
A blind British ski champion is contemplating legal action against Marks and Spencer after a member of staff told him to get his guide dog out. John Dickinson-Lilley was left feeling ‘shaken and humiliated’ on Friday when a shop assistant pointed to his black Labrador Brett and said ‘you’re not allowed that in the store’. He says this is the fifth time M&S staff have challenged him on his guide dog, which visually impaired people can take into shops under the Equality Act.
The Paralympian says these incident are all too common for disabled people across the UK and that tougher legal repercussions are needed for there to be any meaningful change. Describing his recent encounter at an M&S inside London’s Charing Cross Station, John told ‘I was very shaken. It’s humiliating. This happened in a busy story in front of a line of people.’
John Dickinson-Lilley and guide dog Brett
After being challenged by M&S five times now, he says he might have to launch legal action against the chain (Picture: John Dickinson-Lilley)
He was waiting in the queue when a member of staff spotted eight-year-old Brett, and said ‘You’re not allowed that in the store’.

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After standing his ground and explaining his legal rights, he says the worker walked away before a colleague approached and said ‘Sorry about that’ before serving him.

Over the past two years at M&S stores at London Bridge, St Pancras, Oxford Street and Moorgate, John says he was simply turned away at the door and walked away. John added: ‘If you imagine a visually impaired person travelled in from Kent for the first time to London with a guide dog and they go to M&S to get a bottle of water and they tell you you’re not allowed to do that.

‘You’ll probably just get back on the train and leave.’

The now retired athlete has been invited to meet members of the chain’s accessibility team, but the skiing champion is still considering legal action.

John, 41, from Forest Hill, south east London, said people often say the issue is simply one of training, but he thinks the problem is cultural, systemic and runs across the high street. He added: ‘The Equality Act is actually a legal obligation that retailers are required to meet, it’s not optional.

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‘There are rarely consequences for their refusals and they try to approach it like it’s a PR problem rather than a systematic problem.’

Blind skier barred from M&s five times because he has a guide dog
The skier says a member of staff pointed at his dog and said ‘you’re not allowed that in here’ (Picture: Google Maps)
Within the space of a few months British Army veteran Richard Mearns spoke to about how he was turned away from an Indian restaurant and from Zara because of his PTSD support dog, despite being protected by the Equality Act. In June, John was stopped by a security guard at a Sainsbury’s store in Holborn, central London, while the supermarket was sponsoring the British Paralympic team.

At the time the chain said the member of staff must have ‘misread the situation’ before apologising to the skier and reassuring him guide dogs are welcome in all of its stores and petrol stations.

John says incidents like Friday’s, which left him in tears, makes him consider whether he could resort to using a cane instead, which he says are far less safe and much more limiting. The communications director for Goldsmiths University, says the fact that he is faced with this trade-off is a ‘really sad position to be in’.

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He added: ‘The only places I’ve never had a guide dog refusal is Aldi, Lidl and John Lewis ‘If I decided to take legal action for every time I had a guide dog refusal I literally wouldn’t be able to work, it happens with taxis all the time, I’ve never caught an Uber with my guide dog.’

While shops refusing guide dogs are breaking the law, he says staff are much more clued up about the consequences of selling booze and knives to minors.

He added: ‘The training regime is robust and it’s robust because if they break the law and sell alcohol or a bladed item to a minors there will be criminal prosecutions.

‘I have to take them to civil court. I’m slightly more up for having a scrap than I think many disabled people.’

John thinks the police, local authorities and central government ought to start treating incidents like this as criminal offences rather than civil disputes if there is ever to be real change.

Undated handout photo courtesy of British Paralympic skiing champion John Dickinson-Lilley, of himself. Mr Dickinson-Lilley has twice been refused entry along with his guide dog Brett, at the Sainsbury's Local store on Southampton Row in Holborn, central London, minutes from the supermarket chain's head office. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Saturiday June 7, 2019. Mr Dickinson-Lilley, who is registered blind and uses his guide dog to get around, told the Press Association it was the second time he has been illegally barred by staff from entering the same store with his dog. Sainsbury's has sponsored the British Paralympic team since 2012 but Mr Dickinson-Lilley, who is a double British and European ski champion, questioned the business's commitment to raising disabled rights among staff. See PA story CITY Sainsburys. Photo credit should read: John Dickinson-Lilley/PA Wire NOTE TO EDITORS: This handout photo may only be used in for editorial reporting purposes for the contemporaneous illustration of events, things or the people in the image or facts mentioned in the caption. Reuse of the picture may require further permission from the copyright holder.
He has been challenged by a number of high street retailers including Sainsbury’s while they were sponsoring the British Paralympic team (Picture: PA)

He added: ‘Voluntarism clearly isn’t working, there’s no excuses for big firms who have entire teams of people who are there for doing compliance.

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The Disability Discrimination Act was introduced in 1995 – 25 years on this is still happening. It was replaced by the Equality Act in 2010 and it’s still happening.

‘If the Prime Minister is very serious about building inclusive and tolerant society I think this is an easy win.

‘There are 8,000 guide dog users in the country – This is something immediately improve the quality of life for disabled people.’

An M&S spokesperson said: ‘It’s unacceptable for there to be any suggestion an assistance dog is not welcome in any M&S store and we’re very sorry this happened.

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‘Our Charing Cross store is operated by one of our franchise partners and they will be retraining the colleague, as well as reminding all colleagues across the business that we’re committed to making M&S accessible for everyone.

‘We have invited Mr Dickinson-Lilley to meet our Accessibility team so they can apologise personally for his experience and hear his feedback.’ A spokesperson for the Government Equalities Office said: ‘ The UK has some of the strongest equalities legislation in the world thanks to the Equality Act.

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‘This provides for disabled people to have the same right to services supplied by shops as everyone else. Those who break the law face court action and may have to pay compensation as a result.’