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Caribbean steel band forced off plane after passenger feared they were terrorists

UK Daily Mail | September 13, 2007

A Caribbean steel band returning to London was turned off a plane by armed police after a passenger thought they were terrorists.

The five British musicians, on their way home after playing at a festival in Sardinia, were taken off the Ryanair flight after one of their members, who is blind, was reported to the pilot as acting "suspiciously".

Michael Toussaint, a drummer with the Caribbean Steel International group who is registered blind, was led by the arm to his seat by his friends.

One of the other band members then read football scores to him from a newspaper while they waited to take-off.

However, a passenger near the men believed they were behaving suspiciously and reported them to cabin crew.

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Italian military police were called and took the whole band off the plane.

Mr Toussaint presented his disability card and removed his sunglasses to prove he was blind yet even after he was cleared by the airport authorities Ryanair still refused to let him, or the rest of the group, reboard the plane.

The five men are now seeking compensation after they were stranded in Sardinia last New Year's Eve.

The first available flight back to England was not until the following evening and then only to Liverpool.

Band member Jason Constantine, 43, from Norwood, said: "It's a disgrace. This stemmed from one man, who created a situation that led to five people being wrongly accused and stranded when we should have been with our families on New Year's Eve.

"We were tired so we were all pretty quiet. Michael's a big football fan and he wanted to know the results so we read them to him, that's all.

"I can't believe this man thought we were terrorists.

"There was a lot of confusion when the Italian police came on. They were holding guns and didn't speak English. It was very distressing.

"Even after Michael proved he was blind, they still wouldn't let us fly.

"We were the only black people on the plane and I see no other reason than racism."

The band did not arrive back in London until 2 January. Flight delays meant they missed their coach from Liverpool on New Year's Day.

The public holiday, coupled with their late arrival at around midnight, meant they could not book into a hotel, leaving them sheltering from the rain, carrying their steel drums, waiting for the train station to open.

A compensation claim against Ryanair is due to be heard at the Mayor's and City of London Court on 28 November.

The airline offered the men £100 each and flight vouchers, but the musicians say that does not even cover the cost of their train tickets and they are seeking £800 for their distress and inconvenience.

Mr Constantine said: "I'm appalled by the way Ryanair has acted. It is not really about the money. It is the principle.

"We travel all over the world and this ruined what had been a fantastic trip."

Ryanair was unavailable for comment.

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