A priest says he was discriminated against as a result of his Christian beliefs whilst working in one of Britain’s most notorious prisons, when called upon during a game of charades.
HMP Wakefield has housed some of history’s most hardened criminals, including the likes of Charles Bronson, Harold Shipman and Robert Maudsley.
Appearing at an employment tribunal, former prison chaplain Rev Mark Burns has described being “humiliated” and “degraded” during his time there, including during a game of charades.
Rev Burns says the offenders referred to the cleric when acting out “Papa Don’t Preach,” by Madonna, mocking his Christian beliefs.
However, boss Paul Kirwan, whom Rev Burns accuses of discrimination, says the 2020 incident was “innocuous” and “humorous”.
At the time of the incident, Rev Burns was dressed in his clerical clothing, The Times reports.
However, Rev Burns has listed a series of incidents in which he believes Paul Kirwan singled him out. He claims his boss referred to his sermons as “cold vegetables,” and ignored his complaint that a prisoner had touched him on the leg.
However, Kirwan claims the prison chaplain – who had only been ordained for a year when assuming the role in 2018– was not up to the job. He criticised Burns’ commitment to teaching from the King James Bible and Book of Common Prayer “to men who can hardly read or write and who just want to hear what the Gospel is”.
He also claimed Rev Burns was “rude” and “lacking in interpersonal skills”.
Rev Burns also accused Kirwan of “undermining his heterosexual identity” by asking him if he liked gay films.
Kirwan claims they were simply talking about the cinematographic merits of Brokeback Mountain, and meant nothing untoward.
Rev Burns was dismissed in June 2021 as a result of continued concerns about his performance. However, the former prison chaplain then took the matter to a tribunal, citing unfair dismissal, discrimination against his religious beliefs, disability discrimination and harassment, and discrimination against his sexual orientation.
Rev Burns’ claims were dismissed by the presiding Judge Ian Miller, who ruled that they were either misconstrued or not discriminatory.
They added that the charades incident was not the decision of Mr Kirwan, and that the blame rested on the shoulders of the prisoners instead.
However, he has accepted that the prison is an “unhealthy working environment at times,” and that Kirwan’s management style was “abrasive”.