Photo by Peter Macdiarmid

Dissing Darth Vader

Longtime Scout leader Brian Walker paid the price for his Christian views

Artillery Row

All Brian Walker’s misfortunes began five years ago after making a joke about Darth Vader.

Little did he know what would follow when, one Saturday morning in March 2017, he wrote an email to the editor of the quarterly magazine of the Scout Association to comment on its latest issue:

“How sad and disappointed I am that the whole Scout mission these days is to push a politically correct agenda of interfaith multi-faith brainwashing of children and young adults, anything that denigrates Christianity.”

He highlighted an article featuring a female Muslim Scout leader said to be taking girls canoeing while wearing a full Islamic veil. He wrote: “Hello! Canoeist [sic] don’t dress like this . . . they will most likely drown wearing that Darth Vader tent!”

The editor of Scouting lost no time. Within hours of receiving Mr Walker’s email, he reported the emergency to the then UK Chief Commissioner of the Scout Association, who then referred it to Bristol South District Commissioner.

Within days, Mr Walker found himself expelled from the organisation

Within days, Mr Walker found himself expelled from the organisation to which he has given much of his life since the age of 6, when he joined it as a cub scout, till his early sixties, when he was taking groups on survival courses as a Scout leader.

A letter from the Scout Association stated that Mr Walker’s views did not “fit with” the Association’s values, namely “integrity”, “respect”, “care”, “belief” and “cooperation”.

Mr Walker had a right to appeal and used it, but the only question the panel had to ask him was whether he really believed what he had written in the email, to which he said yes. That was the end of it.

Christian Legal Centre then helped Brian to take the Scout Association to court for discrimination on the grounds of his beliefs. The case settled in September 2019 with the Scouts agreeing to pay him compensation.

The side-effect of that, however, was publicity in the national media, whereby Brian’s outspoken views became known to his employer, the local NHS hospital where he worked as an electrician. That promptly landed him in further troubles.

A media article about Brian’s Darth Vader case came to the attention of the hospital’s Equality Manager, Lesley Mansell, best known as a regional Corbynista Labour politician and pioneer of a “Lesbian and Gay Network” within her union.

What exactly an Equality Manager does as a job remains a mystery, but Brian’s case opens a small window into it.

The anonymous consultant staunchly refused to make any complaint, despite encouragement

One day, a secretary called Jennifer walked into Ms Mansell’s office to tell her what she had heard about a conversation which allegedly took place in the Hospital some 6 months before. The conversation was between a male Muslim ex-colleague of Jennifer’s and a gardener or groundsman at the Hospital whose identity was unknown to her or to her ex-colleague. Jennifer told Ms Mansell that she was not aware of the details, but had the impression that the unidentified groundsman or gardener probably made some derogatory comments about Islam. However, the anonymous consultant staunchly refused to make any complaint, despite Jennifer’s encouragement. Six months after an alleged conversation where a person unknown said something unknown to a person who insisted on anonymity what could be done? Still, Jennifer offered to do anything she could to help Ms Mansell.

On her desk, she happened to have a copy of the Sunday Times, dated some two months before, with a photograph of Brian Walker in it, and a report about the settlement of his legal action against the Scout Association. From that photograph, Ms Mansell recognised him as someone she had seen in the Hospital. Having taken that first step, it did not take her long to solve Jennifer’s puzzle. For all she knew, Brian might well be a groundsman or a gardener. So she gave the Sunday Times to Jennifer. What exactly they said to each other at that time is not known.

A little while later, Jennifer reverted to her to say that her anonymous consultant friend was still unwilling to make any complaint; but she, Jennifer, was willing to give hearsay evidence that the anonymous consultant had identified Brian Walker as the mysterious gardener.

By now, indeed, there were other complaints to investigate. The Health and Safety Representative of Unite the Union complained that Brian had visited the Estates Department in his absence and left for him a cake, a copy of the Sunday Times, and a £5 note with a postcard saying “I owe you”.

Translated into the inimitable HR newspeak, the allegation as presented to Brian was that he “left items for colleagues which were considered inappropriate and which could be perceived to be of a bullying and/or harassing nature”.

For the HR managers, that was enough as an admission of guilt

When confronted, Brian is recorded as saying: “I don’t mean to be obstructive, but what is offensive about leaving your work colleagues cakes? Unless they were actually going to weight watchers?”

This aspect of the investigation collapsed when both complainants firmly refused to put their signatures to the statements attributed to them.

In the meantime, however, the management went on a fishing expedition to find some evidence of politically incorrect thoughts Brian might have shared with colleagues. One healthcare assistant stated that a few months before, he had a chat with her where he criticised Islam and same-sex marriages. After further industrious investigations, another healthcare assistant also confirmed that, on another date, Brian had a chat with her, too, and also criticised Islam and same-sex marriages.

With all the strands drawn together, Brian was suspended from work. By the time he was asked, he remembered nothing about any such conversations and whether they took place. All he could testify to were his beliefs.

Brian admitted that he was against same-sex marriage and therefore might have said so. He also could not deny that he might have shared his views about Islam. For the HR managers, that was enough as an admission of guilt.

He was given a final written warning, accompanied by a requirement to take an Equality and Diversity Training course.

The punishment was not for what he had said, but for what he believed

Brian was quite right, in his resignation letter that followed, to describe the whole process as “totalitarian”. It was not for what he had done or even said, but for what he thought and believed.

At a hearing on 30 November, NHS lawyers asked the Tribunal to “strike out” Brian’s claim against the treatment by the Trust on the grounds that his beliefs are “not worthy of respect in a democratic society”.

Thankfully, in a judgment released last week, the judge refused to strike out the claim and observed that the Trust’s argument “does not appear likely to meet with much success” if they choose to renew it at the full trial in October 2022.

The judge referred to the recent judgment in Forstater v CGD Europe, where the Employment Appeal Tribunal made it clear that such an argument would only be accepted about “the most extreme beliefs akin to Nazism or totalitarianism or which incite hatred or violence” and “very few beliefs will fall at that hurdle”.

Nevertheless, the Trust and its lawyers have seriously argued that Brian’s Christian beliefs should be illegal. We await the final verdict.

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