Charity tells tribunal of concerns over Christian social worker’s views

A mental health charity withdrew a job offer to a Christian social worker after concerns emerged that his views on homosexuality and same-sex marriage could have serious effects on extremely vulnerable clients, its HR director has told a tribunal.

Felix Ngole (pictured), 46, claims Touchstone Leeds discriminated against him because of his religious beliefs, when they refused him the job as a hospital discharge mental health support worker, working in Wakefield, West Yorkshire, in 2022.

On Friday, the charity’s director of people and culture, Kathryn Hart, told an employment tribunal in Leeds, how Mr Ngole had out-performed all other candidates in his interview and was provisionally offered the job pending references.

But Mrs Hart said that, when these references arrived, they were brief and inadequate, prompting a colleague to Google Mr Ngole’s name.

This search immediately disclosed news articles about how he won a Court of Appeal case after Sheffield University tried to stop him completing his social work degree when it became aware of social media posts he made about homosexuality and same-sex marriage being a sin.

Mrs Hart told the tribunal this immediately “rang alarm bells” because the role involved dealing with extremely vulnerable people who were being discharged from hospital after mental health problems, many of whom were LGBT.

She was asked by Michael Phillips, for Mr Ngole, whether she thought the existence of the online news articles outlining his client’s belief was enough to cause problems even if he never brought the subject up with service-users.

Mrs Hart said many of the LGBT service-users being discharged from hospital have suffered extensive rejection in their lives and are likely to research the background of those charged with supporting them.

She said it was possible that seeing the articles about Mr Ngole meant “they could end up back in hospital”.

Mrs Hart said many clients in that situation were known to have suicidal ideation.

She said: “We have to think of that as well, the impact of somebody seeing these articles who’s very unwell.”

In her witness statement, Mrs Hart said: “It really concerned me that our service users who came into direct contact with the claimant (or indeed partners such as Wakefield Clinical Commissioning Group) might conduct a Google search of the claimant (out of curiosity) and find the same information that we had become privy to, ie. that the claimant was not supportive of the LGBTQI+ community and their rights.

“This could have had repercussions for the supportive working relationship and the trust that was required between the respondent and its service users in order for the service to be successful and service users to recover.

“It concerned me that our service users may feel let down that we had employed someone whose values did not align with the organisation’s ethos and belief system.”

Mrs Hart said Mr Ngole was invited back for a meeting to discuss whether his views and ethos aligned with those of Touchstone and whether he could fulfil the role.

She said Mr Ngole became hostile during the meeting and she said: “He did not give any assurance that he would be able to meet all the needs of the job.

“That’s why we withdrew the job offer.”

Mrs Hart outlined concerns she had during the meeting in July 2022 about how he would work with LGBT service users but also about his engagement with equality training within the organisation, which provides mental health services to 10,000 people across Yorkshire.

Mr Phillips asked about the distinction between a view that homosexuality was sinful and that homosexual people were sinful.

Mrs Hart said: “If I speak to an LGBT person, they wouldn’t see that distinction.”

She told the tribunal that she believed “Felix’s values and ethos were not aligned with the Touchstone’s, which are anti-discriminatory.”

In his witness statement Mr Ngole said: “As a Christian, I do not see any conflict in working with and for people from the LGBT community.

“That said, there is a distinction between respecting and loving the person and yet lovingly and respectfully disagreeing with their views and/or behaviours.”

Earlier this week Mr Ngole denied claims that vulnerable people may have killed themselves if he had been given the job, after Mr Phillips summarised part of an expert’s report submitted by Touchstone as saying Mr Ngole’s employment “may lead to the death of some service users”.

The Cameroon-born former asylum seeker, from Barnsley, South Yorkshire, is a grandfather-of-two who has also worked as a youth pastor, housing officer and teacher.

The tribunal, which continues, has heard he has been a Christian since the age of four and believes in the literal truth of the Bible.

Mr Ngole is claiming direct and indirect discrimination against Touchstone and harassment.

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