The family of an autistic boy were asked to leave a Tunbridge Wells hotel after they launched a ‘loud verbal assault’ on the owner, during which they accused him of ‘racism and discrimination’.
That’s the claim of The Russell Hotel owner Richard Morley and it is in stark contrast to the allegations made by the child’s parents. Mr Morley’s version of events is, he said, supported by a visiting German tourist.
Katharine Hanglin and her husband Jason Ritchie, who live in Gibraltar, claimed they were told to leave the hotel by the ‘loud, intimidating and rude’ owner following an argument over their six-year-old son Jay listening to his iPad. Jay suffers from severe autism.
They claim they were eating breakfast in the restaurant when the volume rose sharply on the device, which has important therapeutic value to the boy. Ms Hanglin said she turned it down straightaway.
But she was then approached by hotel owner Richard Morley. She recalled: “He bent down and said to me: ‘Switch the iPad off.’
“I told him: ‘I can’t do that, my son is autistic and needs it to relax.’ He said: ‘I want it off. It’s bothering the guests. I am the owner of this hotel and I want it off. Take him out.’
“He was intimidating me, he was in my face. When my husband told the owner about Jay’s autism, he replied: ‘I don’t care, everybody’s got problems.’”
She went to reception to ask if the man was indeed the owner of the London Road two-star hotel. “He was standing behind us at reception and said: ‘I am the owner, I have the power to throw you out. I want you all out.’”
Mr Ritchie told him: “If you throw us out, then I’m not paying the bill.” They had run up £1,300.
“I was worried my kids had nowhere to stay that night,” said Ms Hanglin. Their daughters, Ally-Adela, 7, and 19-year-old Krystel, were with them.
For the next three nights they all stayed at One Warwick Park Hotel.
Mr Morley told the Times: “Jay’s family were certainly not asked to leave because of the volume of his iPad.
“After complaints by other guests the family were asked if they could turn the volume down as it was particularly noisy in the breakfast room,” he added.
“They refused and became very agitated at this request, causing some disruption through a loud verbal assault accusing me personally of racism and discrimination.
“They made immediate threats to refuse payment and to further damage our business through appeals in social and mainstream media.
“In consequence of such unpleasantness they were invited to find other accommodation if they found ours so unacceptable.”
Mr Morley said The Russell was a small, family-run hotel that prided itself on providing personal service wherever possible.
He added: “Guests are welcome to use electronic devices providing ear sets are used for the consideration of others, and in Jay’s particular case further leeway was given because of his condition and apparent lack of headphones.
“Consequently the incident did not occur through his use of the device but rather because of the severe reaction by his family when asked if the volume could be reduced.
“Naturally all of us at The Russell Hotel are very saddened by this event and that such a misunderstanding has occurred.”
Mr Morley added that the incident had been closely witnessed by other guests who could verify his account.
The Times received a copy of an email apparently sent by German tourist Julian Holl: “I saw the owner approach a table where the guests were playing an iPad very loudly.
“He asked them very nicely if the volume could be made less and they became very angry straight away.
They walked around the room calling him a racist and saying he was discriminating them.
“They also made many ugly threats and were very rude and aggressive. I have been a waiter in Germany and I never see anything like this from guests in all my life. Their behaviour was very shocking. The impression was given to me that they wanted publicity and didn’t want to pay the hotel bill.
“I write this to you because I think their actions were not right and that what I read [in the media] is not correct.”
Jay is currently being treated at the Starjumpz children’s centre in Crowborough, which provides pioneering paediatric services for children with learning, developmental, motor and behavioural challenges.
The centre’s director, Jo Brett, described the family as ‘extremely distraught’.
She said: “Jay’s body needs more sensory feedback than usual because of his condition – a lot of touch and pressure – so he would have been fidgety and moving around, touching things.
“iPads and devices like that help to hold the attention of children with autism and keep them calm.”
It is the third time that the family have used the Crowborough facility. They first came over in August last year because of a lack of suitable therapy in Gibraltar.
WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY
Jane Harris, Director of External Affairs at the National Autistic Society, said: “Sadly not enough of the public understand how difficult autistic people can find busy restaurants, shops or hotels.
“It isn’t that the public sets out to be judgemental towards autistic people, but we believe they often simply don’t see the autism. They just see a ‘naughty’ child or a ‘difficult’ adult.
“We’re working with a wide range of companies through our Too Much Information campaign to help them provide the right kind of support for their autistic customers.”