A senior executive at the charity Guide Dogs said he felt “publicly humiliated” when he and his guide dog, Faldo, were illegally told to leave a Marks & Spencer shop in west London.
Dave Kent, 62, a corporate engagement executive at the charity who has been totally blind since he was 18, said he was “curtly” asked to take his golden retriever out of the Mortlake department store three times by a security guard last Friday.
He said the incident felt like a “kick in the nuts” and that it highlighted a continuing problem of blind and partially sighted people being refused entry or ejected from shops because of their guide dogs.
A Guide Dogs survey found that three-quarters of guide dog owners have experienced been illegally turned away from public buildings.
M&S apologised to Kent and accepted that its security team was wrong to ask him to leave. Kent has written to the chief executive of M&S, Steve Rowe, urging the company to inform its security team of their legal duty to allow free access to guide dogs and their owners.
Kent was shopping with a friend for shorts and other summer clothing when they were stopped on the way to the checkout and asked to leave. Faldo had clearly been wearing his guide-dog branded harness at the time, Kent said.
When Kent stood his ground, the security guard twice more insisted that they should take the dog out of the store. When he asked to see the store’s manager he received an apology and the offer of a complimentary drink.
Recounting the incident, Kent said: “A cup of tea. I just thought don’t patronise me.” He left the store without buying his holiday shorts.
He said: “Every time this happens, it’s a kick in the nuts. All I want to do is go to Marks & Spencers and do what any seeing person would do in the course of their day. And I want to do it unhindered. I am sickened by these security guards.
“M&S know very well their obligations under the equality duty. But the problem arises with guide dogs with these third party security companies they employ. They’re probably on a low wage, but they’re idiots and they’re not taught.”
In his letter to Rowe, Kent wrote: “Whilst the response from the manager was polite and measured, this incident left me feeling utterly wretched. To be publicly humiliated in this fashion in sight of other shoppers and members of staff, left my dignity in tatters.
He added: “Guide dogs are provided to visually impaired people to support them with freedom and independence. And to be challenged in this way, when all I wanted to do was to go about my lawful business unmolested, like any other citizen, is absolutely unacceptable.”
He added: “It is imperative that you instruct the people you employ as your security personnel to be fully cognisant of your corporate responsibilities regarding the admittance of guide dogs and other assistance dogs, in the vain hope that this vile situation should not happen again.”
Chris Theobald, public affairs and campaigns manager at Guide Dogs said: “It is completely unacceptable and illegal for a business or service to refuse entry to a customer with a guide dog, yet, sadly, it happens all too often. Our research shows that three-quarters of guide dog owners have been illegally turned away, and this discrimination is leaving people with sight loss left out of life.”
Last week, one of Kent’s best friends, the BBC reporter Sean Dilley was told he was not allowed to take his guide dog, Sammy, into two London Tesco stores. Kent is working on a “reparatory” project with Tesco.
He said: “The problem is with the law, unless it really bites, it’s a bit toothless.”
A spokesperson for M&S said: “What happened is unacceptable and we sincerely apologise to Mr Kent. Our stores should be accessible for everyone and we welcome assistance dogs. We have worked with the Royal National Institute of Blind People to develop online assistance dog awareness training, which all of our colleagues complete.”
They added: “We are picking up with our security providers to ensure guards across stores are fully aware of our approach and are contacting Mr Kent to apologise directly.”