A Christian couple being sued for refusing to allow a gay couple to share a room at their guesthouse could have been the victims of a ”set up”, a court heard yesterday.
Devout Peter and Hazelmary Bull refused to let civil partners Martyn Hall and Steven Preddy use a double room because it was against their ”Christian conscience”.
They operate a strict policy which only allows married heterosexual couples to share rooms at their B&B in Cornwall.
The gay couple claim the snub was discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and are suing for up to £5,000 damages at Bristol County Court.
But the court heard the scenario felt like ‘an acted out scene’ similar to cases used as examples of discrimination in literature distributed by gay equal rights group Stonewall.
Yesterday the court heard how the couple booked two nights in a double room at the Chymorvah Private Hotel in Marazion near Penzance on September 4 2008.
Mrs Bull, 66, took the telephone booking from Steven Preddy but no mention of a partner was made and she assumed he would be staying with his wife.
She told the court: ”My first comment after coming off the phone was that I’ve let a double room for tomorrow night but I’ve forgotten to go through the policy with them.
”We definitely didn’t discuss a second person. We were all very surprised when two gentlemen turned up.”
Guesthouse manager Bernie Quinn told the court he recalled taking a phone call later that day from a ”Mrs Preddy”, which led him to expect a husband and wife.
He remarked that the whole incident smacked of an ‘acted out’ scene in a leaflet detailing how to deal with customers.
He said: ”It appeared to me like we were acting out one of the scenarios in the booklet.
”It seems odd that I was expecting a Mr and Mrs Preddy and when I got up there was two men.”
The gay couple’s barrister Catherine Casserley, a leading discrimination and human rights lawyer, said: ”So, you are suggesting these claimants set it up?.”
Mr Quinn said: ”It’s not beyond the realms of possibility, but I have no proof.”
But when Mr Preddy and Mr Hall arrived the next day Mr Quinn told them he could only offer the couple two single rooms because of their policy.
The couple, who live together in Brislington, Bristol, told the guesthouse it was acting illegally before leaving and reporting the incident to police.
Mr Preddy and Mr Hall denied any suggestion of a set-up and said they had no prior knowledge of the guesthouse’s rules.
The Chymorvah hotel website says: ”We have few rules but please note that out of a deep regard for marriage we prefer to let double accommodation to heterosexual married couples only.”
The gay couple also denied knowledge of a letter sent to the guesthouse by equal rights group Stonewall in 2008, which flagged up their bedroom policy as potentially illegal.
Mr Preddy told the court: ”They had a list of conditions, but it was only mentioned on the booking form on the website.
”We decided to book by telephone because it was the day before.”
When asked how staff reacted to them when turning them away, he said: ”The body language was not great. It was clear we were not welcome in the hotel.”
But Mrs Bull, a great-grandmother, said she and her 70-year-old husband endeavoured to lead their lives as close to the bible scripture – or word of God – as they could.
They had employed the strict room rules since taking over the guesthouse in 1986.
Mrs Bull said: ”This is our home – it’s not some large corporation.
”We feel that under the eyes of god we need to feel comfortable there – and that includes sleeping arrangements.
”We feel that our faith and conscience means we are responsible for what happens under our roof and that the teachings of the Christian faith are opposed to sex outside of marriage.”
The landmark action has been brought against the guesthouse under the 2007 Equality Act Regulations – and the couple could seek up to £5,000 in damages.
The hearing could determine whether Christians are permitted to operate B&Bs that restrict double bed accommodation to married couples.
Mr Preddy and Mr Hall’s legal fees are being paid for by the Government-funded Equality and Human Rights Commission.
Mr and Mrs Bull’s legal defence is being financed by The Christian Institute, a charity that protects the religious liberty of Christians.