As David Jones arrived at the security gates at Gatwick airport, he was looking forward to getting through swiftly so he could enjoy lunch with his daughters before their flight.
Placing his belongings, including a scarf, into a tray to pass through the X-ray scanner he spotted a Muslim woman in hijab pass through the area without showing her face.
In a light-hearted aside to a security official who had been assisting him, he said: “If I was wearing this scarf over my face, I wonder what would happen.”
The quip proved to be a mistake. After passing through the gates, he was confronted by staff and accused of racism.
As his daughters, who had passed through security, waited in the departure lounge wondering where he was, he was subjected to a one hour stand-off as officials tried to force him to apologise.
Mr Jones, 67, who is the creator of the popular children’s character Fireman Sam, said: “Something like George Orwell’s 1984 now seems to have arrived in Gatwick airport.
“I feel that my rights as an individual have been violated. What I underwent amounts to intimidation and detention. I was humiliated and degraded in full public view.
“I am a 67-year-old pensioner and have lived my life within the law. I do not have even one point on my driving licence.”
He said that when he made his initial remark the security guard had appeared to agree with him, saying: “I know what you mean, but we have our rules, and you aren’t allowed to say that.”
As he went through the metal detecting arch, his artificial hip set off the alarm, prompting a full search from a guard. It was after this, and as he prepared to rejoin his two grown-up daughters, that he was confronted by another guard who said he was being detained because he had made an offensive remark.
“I repeated to her what I had said and told her that I had said nothing racist,” he said. “She took my passport and boarding pass and I was then escorted back through the security zone into the outer area. Here the female security guard proceeded to question me further, inferring many things that I had not said.
“It was impossible to get her to listen to reason. We were then joined by a second female security guard who stated that she was Muslim and was deeply distressed by my comment.
“I again stated that I had not made a racist remark but purely an observation that we were in a maximum security situation being searched thoroughly whilst a woman with her face covered walked through. I made no reference to race or religion. I did not swear or raise my voice.”
According to Mr Jones, who was due to board a British Airways flight to Portugal, where he now lives and runs a restaurant on the Algarve, the British Airways duty manager was then called in and sided with the security staff.
He continued: “I had now been detained for some time and my daughters were worried, calling me on my phone asking what was happening. We were going around in circles. I maintained that I had said nothing offensive and the security guard was continuing to accuse me. This had taken about 15-20 minutes and looked as though it was not going to be resolved.
“I asked the security guard if she was going to charge me to which she said no but I could not leave until I had apologised to the Muslim guard.
“At this point I asked for the attendance of a police officer. After some time he arrived but it was also plainly evident that he was keeping to the politically correct code. I told him that if there was a case then he should arrest me.
“I was told that we now live in a different time and some things are not to be said. They decided again that I would only be allowed to continue on my journey if I were to apologise to the Muslim guard. My reply was that as I had not made a racist remark it would be impossible for me to apologise.”
Mr Jones, a former member of the Household Cavalry and retired fireman, added: “I felt that I made a logical observation. That while everyone was being subjected to an invasive search it was illogical that someone should be let through with their face covered. I am not opposed to having this level of security but it must be equal for all.”
Eventually, Mr Jones said, the BA manager suggested that he should agree that what he had said “could” be considered offensive by a Muslim guard.
With his flight departure time now fast approaching Mr Jones agreed to the compromise. Escorted by the police officer, he was taken through security where he was again subjected to a full search after his hip replacement set off the metal detector alarms.
Mr Jones said he intended to complain formally to the Gatwick airport authorities and British Airways about the incident last Sunday.
Department for Transport rules do not prevent people covering their faces at UK airports for religious reasons.
However, all passengers must show their faces to UK Borders officials when they pass through passport control. Muslim women who wear hijabs can request that their identity is checked by a female immigration officer and they can also ask that they be taken to a private room before they remove their head wear.
A spokesman for Gatwick airport said: “The security team are examining the incident to ensure that the issue was managed in the right way.
“They are talking to the people involved to understand what the issue was and how it came to have the police involved.”