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'We have learnt from this and apologise': Blackpool Council pay out £100,000 over Franklin Graham bus advert ban

by Marcus Jones

The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association has been awarded over £100,000 in damages after its adverts for an event with evangelist Franklin Graham were banned from Blackpool buses.

Graham took part in the Festival of Hope at Blackpool's Winter Gardens at which thousands heard him preach and hundreds responded to his alter call.

The posters, which were due to appear on the side of local buses to advertise the event, read 'Time for hope' but were refused over concerns that Graham would incite hatred upon his visit.

The concern was linked to past comments he had made about Islam and homosexuality.

In a statement at the time, Jane Cole, managing director at Blackpool Transport said: "The removal of these adverts is as a result of us listening and acting on customer and public feedback which we aim to do at all times.

"Blackpool Transport is a proud ongoing supporter of the Pride and LGBT+ communities and in no way did we intend to cause any distress or upset."

Earlier this year, a judge ruled that the council violated the Equality Act and the Human Rights Act.

Judge Claire Evans said: "The Defendants had a wholesale disregard for the right to freedom of expression possessed by the Claimant. It gave a preference to the rights and opinions of one part of the community without having any regard for the rights of the Claimant or those who shared its religious beliefs."

This week the court agreed remedies after Blackpool Council accepted the courts findings.

The settlement included the Council paying £84,000 to cover legal costs and a further £25,000 in damages.

The Council also offered a public apology accepting it was wrong.

Lynn Williams, leader of Blackpool Council, said: "We accept that the advertisements were not in themselves offensive. We further accept that in removing the advertisements we did not take into account the fact that this might cause offence to other members of the public and suggest that some voices should not be heard. We also regret that we did not consult with the organisers prior to taking our decision.  

"We accept the findings of the Court that we discriminated against Lancashire Festival of Hope because of the religious beliefs of Franklin Graham and in doing so interfered with Lancashire Festival of Hope's right to freedom of speech.

"We sincerely apologise to the organisers of the event for the upset and inconvenience caused.  

"We have learnt from this experience. We are committed to ensuring equality of access and opportunity for the population of Blackpool and providing and improving quality services for all. We have now introduced clear and transparent policies that will ensure no repeat of events such as these."

The settlement is not something which can be appealed, and organisers of the Festival of Hope now hope it will serve as a precedent for other similar situations.

Earlier this year Scotland's Destiny conference was prevented from hosting its event at an Edinburgh Council building. It too was paid damages.

Franklin Graham, president and CEO of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association: "This is an important moment for religious freedom in the UK. 

"We're grateful to God for the final outcome of this case, and for what it will mean for churches and Christians across the UK in the years ahead. 

"The Good News of Jesus Christ must be proclaimed. My prayer is that this case will encourage Christians to stand firm."

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