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Home   Ashford   News   Article

Ashford mum Sophie Howes wins payout after breastfeeding ban in swimming pool at Stour Centre

25 April 2014
by Suz Elvey

A mother told to stop breastfeeding in an Ashford swimming pool has received a payout from the leisure centre where it happened.

Sophie Howes hit the headlines in October when a member of staff at the Stour Centre asked her to stop feeding her eight-month-old baby Connie in the pool.

Now Ms Howes, a midwife who lives in Landbury Walk, Ashford, has received an undisclosed amount from Ashford Leisure Trust in an out-of-court settlement.

Sophie Howes with her eight-month-old daughter Connie

Sophie Howes with her eight-month-old daughter Connie

Ms Howes, who was 27 at the time, claimed the centre had breached the Equality Act 2010, which provides protection for mums wanting to breastfeed their children.

She has agreed to keep the terms of the settlement private, but revealed she is happy with the outcome.

She said: "I decided to take a stance as I believe no woman should be made to feel embarrassed by wanting to breastfeed their child in public.

"Women have rights to be protected from less favourable treatment and to equal access to facilities just because they want to breastfeed their children.

"It's important that when this kind of thing happens we challenge the practices and policies of services providers to ensure it doesn't happen again to others."

The Stour Centre in Ashford was at the centre of a breastfeeding row

The Stour Centre in Ashford was at the centre of a breastfeeding row

Lucy Angus, the solicitor from Unity Law who dealt with the case on behalf of Sophie, said: "This case is important as it gives breastfeeding mums the confidence to know they can challenge discriminatory treatment of this kind. 

"Many breastfeeding mums aren't aware of their rights in the same way service providers, such as leisure centres, aren't aware of their legal obligations. 

"This case helps to raise awareness of the issue from both perspectives."

Sophie Howes, with eight-month-old daughter Connie and Sophie's mother Virginia Howes

Sophie Howes, with eight-month-old daughter Connie and Sophie's mother Virginia Howes

Hundreds of people joined the debate on whether breastfeeding in a public swimming pool was appropriate when Ms Howes and her mother Virginia Howes, also a midwife, first complained about her treatment last year.

Emma Wood, chief executive of Ashford Leisure Trust, told KentOnline at the time: "Ashford Leisure Trust fully supports breastfeeding at all its sites and understands the legal rights of mothers to do this.

"On this occasion it was believed there was a legitimate health and safety risk with feeding actually taking place while both the mother and baby were in the water and a suitable alternative area just a couple of metres away was suggested.

Emma Wood, chief executive of Ashford Leisure Trust

Emma Wood, chief executive of Ashford Leisure Trust

She added: "We do of course apologise for any upset caused. The staff were concerned for the health and welfare of the baby. It may be that this concern was misplaced due to a misunderstanding of the situation but it was not intended to discriminate against the mother.

"It is clear that additional training is required and this is being arranged with Public Health for all staff to ensure there is an enhanced awareness and understanding of breastfeeding.

"We will also be working with experts and professionals to ensure that a suitable policy is produced."

Ms Wood added today: "On the basis of legal advice, the insurance company acting for the trust settled without admitting any liability to avoid incurring disproportionate legal costs."

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