A dominoes player has won a court case over a ban against him and his friends who played the game loudly, which he said was racially motivated.
Ernest Theophile took the Westminster city council to court after it granted an injunction banning social gatherings in Maida Hill Market Square in north-west London.
Theophile and his friends have been gathering in the square for 12 years to chat, socialise and play dominoes, cards and backgammon. The council banned them from congregating there in January 2021, citing noise and antisocial behaviour problems. It received more than 200 complaints.
In March 2021 a judge changed the order, so the group could return to the square near the junction of Harrow Road, Westbourne Park and Maida Vale. The group could have been jailed if they were caught playing loud amplified music, drinking alcohol, shouting or swearing. But the 74-year-old took the council to court, saying it was racist as it discriminated against Caribbean culture. The family arrived in the Dominican Republic in the 1950s as part of the Windrush generation.
If you are a West Indian, you just can't play dominoes without making a bit of noise, Theophile said, adding that he had visited the area for most of his life and helped people avoid social isolation.
On Friday, Judge Heather Baucher, presiding in central London county court, ruled that Westminster council was wrong to not take equality into account when taking out the injunction.
She said that the decision was flawed and untenable, and that guidance saying equality matters must be taken into account was seriously wrong, so officials did not have to follow it, which Baucher rejected.
Theophile's legal team will try to get the injunction thrown out in court next month.
The loneliness was one of the biggest factors that theophile said was the reason we gather there. That is why the square is ideal for us.
Sometimes the younger generation comes here and congregate, but we just want a place where we can socialise and play a few games to pass the time. The vicar of nearby St Peter's Church said : The borough of Westminster has some of the most deprived areas in London. I have found there to be an enormous amount of need in the community in terms of mental health support, so I was shocked when I heard about the injunction, and I expressed serious concerns about the use of this dangerous catch-all measure against the whole community. Theophile's lawyer, Anne McMurdie, said there was a complete failure by the Westminster city council to recognise and comply with the equalities obligations owed to the West Indian community. The council rushed to the draconian measures when it tried to get an injunction backed up by a power of arrest, which could have seen my client sent to prison. A spokesman for Westminster City Council said that the new Labour administration hoped to find a solution: We recognise and accept the judgment of the high court.
This is the first time that we have been asked to apply equalities law when applying for an injunction, which is why we had previously not sought one.
We continue to believe that our actions have always been in the best interests of local residents, who have been plagued by antisocial behaviour and criminality.
The council is looking at its approach to this case and the new administration is trying to find a solution that works for the whole community.