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Cookham hotelier 'turned gay couple away'
This story was updated at 6.30pm.
HOTELIERS who turned away a gay couple say they are ‘stunned’ by a backlash which has allegedly included threats of physical violence.
Christians Mike Wilkinson, 55, and wife Susanne say they have been inundated with angry messages from strangers after refusing Michael Black and John Morgan entry to their Cookham B&B on Friday night.
They could face private court after police said the move could be a breach of equalities rules.
Mr Black said he was ‘shocked’ by being turned away but strongly condemned any threats, saying were "completely wrong".
Susanne, 55, said she had expected a heterosexual couple when the booking was made.
She recounted: “I said I don't like two men to be in one bed and the answer was 'do you have a problem with that?
“And I said ‘yes that's against my convictions’. I was not able to offer another room as the other two we had were booked out.
“I said I really don't want that activity under my roof. This is not a hotel, it's a private house. There's a difference.”
Her husband, also 55, said of the calls and emails: “It's a stunning reaction. We have been inundated.
“What is clearly happening here is there's an organisation, a machine that somebody's cranked up.”
He said at least half of the messages were ‘completely unprintable’.
Mr Wilkinson, who has run Swiss B&B in Terry's Lane for three years, said: “Some of them rationalise their point of view but the vast majority are very rude, personally abusive and threatening.
“From burning the house down to physically attacking us. That’s what's astonishing.”
Yet he said there were a minority of supportive messages including a call from a worshipper in New York who said his church would pray for them.
Mr Wilkinson said: “We have a faith, we live according to that our lifestyle is a Christian lifestyle.
“We have values that are important to us and we feel we're responsible for and it makes it impossible for us to condone behaviour we don't agree with.”
He said: “We're sorry they've been upset and we're upset. It's a clash of two different points of view.
“We're very sad that the state of the country is that such laws exist at all. We would say actually we obey other laws, we obey God's laws.
“We're not discriminating on race, religion or any other reason and we want to make it really clear we're not homophobic.”
Mr Wilkinson said: “We will meet them in the court if that's the case and we'll put our position. We equally have rights to an expression of our faith.”
Mr Black, an English trainer from Cambridgeshire, told the Free Press: “We were shocked that it was happening because neither of us had experienced it before.
He said Mrs Wilkinson “looked uptight” when she realised he and Mr Morgan, a Liberal Democrat councillor, were a gay couple.
He said she apologised for turning them away and refunded their deposit, adding there had been no row and discussions were amicable.
He added they still hoped to change the Wilkinsons’ “abhorrent” views but strongly condemned any threats of violence.
“That does no benefit to the argument and puts them completely in the wrong," he said.
"We don't want any violence, attacks or threats towards the Wilkinsons and we are even trying to change their views even though we find them abhorrent.”
The pair have not decided yet whether to take the matter to a civil court.
He said: “The publicity is even in itself it gives the message that public opinion in the country is against discrimination.
"If someone is out of line with that they have to find a way to keep out of the contact with the public in other words give up the B & B.-
“It may not be that taking them to court would achieve anything extra.
“So many people who have rung us from the TV companies have said how outraged they are personally about it.
"That has been really good and what we are hoping is that all this publicity will give a message both to the person concerned and other owners that they are not above the law.”
He added the purpose of raising the issue in the media was to make other B & B owners aware of the laws on discrimination.
He also said he only expected “a few paragraphs in the local newspapers” but in fact they have been interviewed by Sky, ITV and BBC.
Thames Valley Police said it has been recorded as a ‘homophobic incident’ and this is ‘not a notifiable crime’.
A statement said: “The incident may be a breach of The Equalities Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2007, which outlaws discrimination by businesses against gay, lesbian and bi-sexual people.
“It is not a criminal offence, so police will not be carrying out a criminal investigation.”
It said: “The men have been advised about their rights under the act and how they can pursue a civil action if appropriate.”
It said the Thames Valley Gay Police Association said ‘businesses cannot discriminate against gay people; the law is very clear on this’.
James Lawrence, spokesman for gay rights group Stonewall, said the size of the business ‘doesn’t matter’ in law.
He said: “It's illegal to discriminate against customers on the basis of their sexual orientation.”
He said: “You may have personal views or opinions but they don't override the law.”
Conservative Councillor Michael John Saunders, who represents Cookham on the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead council, said: “Cookham is a remarkably tolerant community and it must be very sad to many of the people living there for this issue to have acquired such prominence.”
Charles Walmsley, licensed lay minister at Holy Trinity Church in Cookham, said: "The Christian community is split on the gay issue and here in Cookham the church is supportive of the gay position.
"We would be supportive of the men who were turned away."