A senior executive from the Guide Dogs charity says he felt ‘publicly humiliated’ when he and his guide dog, Faldo, were illegally asked to leave a Marks & Spencer store in west London .
Dave Kent, 62, a corporate engagement manager 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 big Mortlake store three times by a security guard last Friday.
He said the incident looked like a ‘kid in the nuts’ and highlighted a continuing problem of blind and visually impaired people being refused entry or being kicked out of shops because of their dogs- guides.
A survey of guide dogs found that three-quarters of guide dog owners were unlawfully turned away from public buildings.
M&S apologized to Kent and accepted that his security team was wrong to ask him to leave. Kent has written to M&S chief executive Steve Rowe, urging the company to inform its security team of its legal obligation to allow free access to guide dogs and their owners.
Kent was shopping with a friend for shorts and other summer clothes when they were stopped on the way to the checkout and asked to leave. Faldo was clearly wearing his trademark guide dog harness at the time, Kent said.
When Kent held his ground, the security guard twice more insisted that they get the dog out of the store. When he asked to see the store manager, he received an apology and the offer of a free drink.
Recounting the incident, Kent said: ‘A cup of tea. I just thought I wasn’t dating. He left the store without buying his vacation shorts.
He said: “Every time that happens it’s a kick in the nuts. All I want to do is go to Marks & Spencer and do what any sighted person would do in their day. And I want to do it unhindered. I’m sick of these security guards.
“M&S is well aware of its obligations under the Equality Duty. But the problem arises with guide dogs with these third-party security companies that they employ. They probably have a low salary, but they are uneducated.
In his letter to Rowe, Kent wrote: “Although the manager’s response was polite and measured, this incident left me completely miserable. To be publicly humiliated in this way in full view of other buyers and staff, left my dignity in tatters.
He added: “Guide dogs are provided to visually impaired people to help them with freedom and independence. And being arrested in this way, when all I wanted was to go about my legal business without incident, like any other citizen, is absolutely unacceptable.
He added: “It is imperative that you ask the people you employ as security personnel to be fully aware of your company responsibilities regarding the admission of guide dogs and other assistance dogs, in the vain hope May this despicable situation never happen again.”
Chris Theobald, Public Affairs and Campaigns Manager at Guide Dogs, said: ‘It is completely unacceptable and illegal for any business or service to refuse entry to a customer with a guide dog, but unfortunately it happens too often. Our research shows that three-quarters of guide dog owners have been unlawfully turned away, and this discrimination leaves people with vision loss excluded from life.
Last week, one of Kent’s best friends, BBC journalist Sean Dilley, learned he was not allowed to take his guide dog, Sammy, to two Tesco stores in London. Kent is working on a “remedial” project with Tesco.
He said: “The problem is with the law, unless it really bites, it’s a bit toothless.”
An M&S spokesman said: ‘What happened is unacceptable and we sincerely apologize to Mr Kent. Our stores should be accessible to everyone and we welcome service 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 contacting our security providers to ensure store guards are fully aware of our approach and are contacting Mr Kent to apologize directly.’