A Christian electrician has launched legal action against an NHS Trust after being forced out of his job for his beliefs on multi-culturalism, Islam, and same-sex marriage.
Supported by the Christian Legal Centre, Brian Walker, 66, from Bristol, has launched legal action against North Bristol NHS Trust, on the grounds of discrimination, victimisation, and harassment. He is also claiming constructive dismissal after resigning following what he describes as a ‘totalitarian’ investigation against him. Following many months of investigations, reports and hearings within the Trust, Brian was given a final written warning and was required to attend equality training.
Brian has said he was treated like a ‘terrorist’ by NHS bosses and was forced out of the job despite flagging that he was under severe pressure at the time supporting his disabled children through complex issues. He has said that the experience nearly ‘destroyed’ his family.
Case ‘struck out’
However, with a full employment tribunal pending, the Trust’s lawyers are now seeking to have Brian’s case ‘struck out’ at an online hearing at Bristol Employment Tribunal on Tuesday 30 November. They claim Brian’s conservative Christian beliefs are “incompatible with human dignity” and “not worthy of respect in democratic society” so as not to qualify as religious or philosophical beliefs protected under the Equality Act.
In so doing, NHS lawyers are putting Brian’s beliefs on a par with neo-Nazism in their application to strike out the case.
However, in a landmark judgment in June 2021, an Employment Appeal Tribunal overturned a ruling from the Employment Tribunal that Maya Forstater’s beliefs in biological sex were unworthy of protection, with the judge ruling that: “only beliefs akin to Nazism or espousing totalitarianism would fail to qualify for protection,” and that, “It is only in extreme cases involving the gravest violation of other Convention rights that the belief would fail to qualify for protection.”
In their claim, NHS lawyers admit that they are aware of the Forstater judgment but say: “Nevertheless, the Respondent seeks to strike out the beliefs… in the list of issues because they are not worthy of respect in a democratic society and are incompatible with human dignity and conflict with the fundamental rights of others.”
Brian’s lawyers will contest this application saying it is “misconceived and should be dismissed.”
Brian initially made headlines in February 2018 when the Scout Association removed him from his position as a youth leader for comparing a canoeing Muslim leader in the organisation in a niqab veil, to the Star Wars villain Darth Vader.
Brian, who served in the armed forces for 11 years (which included serving with the SAS) insisted that he had not wanted to cause personal offence, and often used his dry sense of humour to make a point. He had seen Scouting change and said, “Scouting should stick to its Christian traditions.”
He had asked Boris Johnson, who at the same time was Foreign Secretary and had faced an investigation by the Conservative Party for making jokes about Islamic face covering, to act as an expert witness to defend him for making what he described as “a quip, light-hearted tongue-in-cheek humour.”
Brian was subsequently vindicated when the Scout Association agreed to settle the case. However, following news of the outcome appearing in the Sunday Times in September 2018, he will allege a series of exaggerated and tenuous complaints from colleagues at Southmead Hospital in Bristol, where he worked as an electrician, were made against him.
Following a disagreement with a health care assistant in May 2018 over how long it had taken to mend a toaster, a complaint was raised against Brian. The complaint added that ‘a few months’ ago he had made ‘offensive’ comments about multiculturalism and Islam and that he had stated that he believed same-sex marriage was contrary to Biblical teaching.
Despite no other corroborating complaints, in June Brian was summoned for an ‘informal discussion’ with his manager where he was shown a document of recorded complaints against him which included a complaint entitled: ‘Regarding Religious Views.’ Brian was told that despite the discussion being informal, the document would remain on his record for a year, should any other incidents arise.
In response, Brian submitted a grievance where he said that he had been sanctioned for “merely expressing my freedom of speech by sharing that I hold traditional Biblical values, particularly regarding marriage.”
Following the grievance being investigated, Brian was suspended pending a full disciplinary investigation.
In September 2018, Brian’s case against the Scout Association was settled and again gained significant national media coverage.
Another complaint quickly followed, this time from the Trust’s Equality Manager and regional Labour politician, Lesley Mansell, who had seen the story in the Sunday Times.
Brian will allege that Mansell began cajoling a member of staff to make a hearsay complaint linking Mr Walker’s appearance in the Sunday Times, to a ‘mysterious groundsman’ who had allegedly made negative comments about Islam to a colleague.
While on stress-related sick leave, Mr Walker visited Southmead hospital to deliver a sickness note in September 2018. While there, he left a copy of The Sunday Times settlement story on a desk for his estates management colleagues, several cakes, a postcard with a £5 note in it for another colleague and an inspirational note.
Lawyers will argue a number of complaints followed from his colleagues, who claimed they felt ‘harassed’ and ‘intimidated’ by the items he had left.
When Brian returned from stress leave in November 2018, he says he was ambushed by an Associate Director and told that further serious allegations had been made against him. He was subsequently suspended, escorted off the premises and banned from the hospital.
Brian was informed that the allegations against him included him demonstrating behaviour “that was not in line with the Trust values” and that his behaviour had breached the Trust’s Equality and Diversity policies.
During the entire process, the substance of the allegations against Brian were never fully disclosed to him and evidence was presented in a highly selective way.
By August 2019, the investigation against Mr Walker was concluded and he was ordered to undertake equality and diversity training and given a final written warning.
The disciplinary panel concluded based on hearsay allegations that: “I do believe there was an interaction between you and the unnamed consultant where you behaved in a discriminatory way. This alleged event, whilst not part of the allegation, supports the finding of a general pattern of discriminatory behaviour that you have displayed.”
The panel further concluded: “that there were three episodes where you made unsolicited comments of a discriminatory nature to three members of staff.”
Brian’s lawyers have argued crucial evidence has been repeatedly concealed, and that the ‘three episodes’ are also still to be substantiated.
Lawyers also argued that senior management appeared to have gone on a ‘fishing expedition’ seeking complaints and further evidence, and that Mr Walker was frequently ‘ambushed’ with this new ‘evidence.’
Following the outcome of the investigation, Mr Walker resigned as he had been placed in an untenable situation.
‘I was treated like a terrorist’
Ahead of the hearing, Brian commented: “The whole experience has aged me and nearly destroyed my family, but we have carried on and are determined to seek for justice.
“At the time of the investigation we were dealing with very stressful issues with our two disabled boys. Our sons could tell I was struggling, and it affected all of us.
“For 10 years we had voluntarily allowed the hospital, in partnership with the university, to allow students to come into our home to witness the challenges of bringing up disabled children.
“When we made this point to the hospital, bosses at the time of the investigation said that they simply did not care – we were irrelevant to them on a human level. Instead, they treated me like a terrorist and an extremist.
“Christian beliefs, and especially any expressing of them, are being suppressed in the NHS. The argument that my beliefs, which I believe are shared by many, are not worthy of protection under the law must end.
“This case is not about me. I am fighting it for younger generations of Christians who have mortgages to pay and careers to lose.”
Andrea Williams, chief executive of the Christian Legal Centre, said: “Brian’s story shows the dangers people face when daring to question or even joke about inclusion and multiculturalism.
“A rather sinister campaign was launched against him by NHS bosses and colleagues because he dared to share his views in the workplace and his story with the media.
“It appears equality and diversity managers were determined for him to be punished for the stand he took.
“NHS lawyers are now saying that his beliefs are not worthy of respect in a democratic society or protection under the equality act. Such a claim equates Brian’s Christian conservative beliefs with neo-Nazism.
“No protection is given to beliefs ‘incompatible with human dignity’ and ‘not worthy of respect in a democratic society’. In the past this definition has only applied to the most extreme beliefs, such as those of Holocaust deniers, neo-Nazis, and similar.
“It’s really sinister when we get to a stage where argument will be made in in a UK court that Christian beliefs, are unworthy of human rights protection.
“Christian social values advocate for the freedom of the individual to live and speak out their beliefs in a free society and to seek to persuade others of their beliefs in a democratic society.
“We stand with Brian as he seeks justice in this case.”
Find out more about Brian Walker