This Is London, February 12, 2007
When Lee Williams saw a parent-and-toddler session advertised at his local pool, he thought it was the perfect chance to teach his young daughter to swim.
Arriving at the leisure centre already in her swimming costume, two-year-old Darby was desperate to get into the water.
But she was left in tears when staff said they were not allowed in the pool because the session was for Muslim women and their children only.
Mr Williams, 34, bitterly criticised Manchester City Council yesterday after it admitted that advertising for the session, on its website and on leaflets, had been misleading. ‘I can understand why Muslim women need to have this kind of session, but the council should not be advertising it as parent and toddler,’ he said.
‘They made out I’d got it wrong, but I had checked on the council’s website for the times.’
The incident happened at Abraham Moss Leisure Centre in Crumpsall. Mr Williams, a delivery driver from Blackley, had seen the parent-and-toddler session being promoted on the council’s website and a leaflet.
But when they arrived, reception staff told Mr Williams he could not swim with Darby because it was a women-only session and they would have to come back later. Despite his protests that he had specifically checked the time of the session, the staff were insistent.
It was only when he telephoned the council to complain that he was told the session had been privately booked for Muslim women.
According to Islam, women are forbidden from exposing their bodies to any man but their husband.
A spokesman for Manchester City Council apologised to Mr Williams. He said: ‘We were sorry to hear that he had been turned away. We are ensuring that our website is updated and staff are briefed so this does not happen again.’
The incident is the latest in a series of rows between local authorities and the public over swimming lessons for ethnic minority groups.
In December last year, Croydon Council in South London came under fire for running Muslim-only sessions at one of its leisure centres.
Non-Muslim members of Thornton Heath leisure centre were angry that they could not swim during the Muslim-only sessions on Saturdays and Sundays unless they obeyed the strict dress code.
For men, this involved wearing shorts which kept the navel hidden and were extended below the knee, while women bathers had to wear a swimming costume which covered their body from the neck down to the ankle.
Similarly, Wolverhampton Council and South Lanarkshire local authority have also been criticised for operating women-only swimming for Muslims.