BA steward 'headbutted colleague who said Jews deserved what they got'
PUBLISHED July 16, 2012
The row began in a New York bar when cabin steward Jean-Paul Van der Velde told fellow BA colleague Paul Meek about his family history when Mr Meek allegedly replied "At least you got a monument out of it".
Mr Van der Velde, who had worked for BA for 17 years, was sacked for the alleged attack in the Pig and Whistle bar.
He said airline staff had been enjoying a drink during a stopover on 6 March 2010 when the "drunk" and "aggressive" Mr Meek allegedly launched into his anti-Semitic tirade.
In his witness statement to Watford Employment Tribunal, Mr Van der Velde, 50, said: "He was aggressive and agitated and also appeared to me to be drunk."
He continued: "I offered him a drink. I started some casual conversation and asked him where he lived. He told me that he was from Manchester but lived in Munich in Germany for the past two years.
"He asked me where I came from and I said that I was Dutch. He then replied that the Germans hated the Dutch. I said that since the Berlin Wall came down there had been an uprising of neo Nazis because of unemployment.
"I also replied that the Dutch suffered a great deal. In response he said that 'the Jews were a nuisance, that they deserved it.'
"At that stage I had not mentioned at all that I was Jewish. I said to him that my family had suffered a great deal in the war and I confirmed that I was Jewish and my father and several other family members had been in concentration camps. His next comment was 'at least you got a monument out of it."
He went on: "I found his comments very offensive and I was also quite scared that in this day and age someone could quite openly say such aggressive and hurtful things.
"I was shocked and felt very insulted. I decided to walk out of the bar. This was very soon after he had actually made these comments. On my way out I said to the members of the other group, 'this guy is a racist.'"
He said he went outside and had a cigarette before going back in, at which point he was told by the cabin services director, Steve Owens: "You won't believe it, he has said that he had been insulted twice."
Shortly afterwards, Mr Meek left to go back to the hotel and the following day Mr Van der Velde left for Heathrow.
He said: "I talked on the flight to Steve Owens and said that I was still upset about the comments made by Paul Meek. Mr Meek did not come back on my flight from New York. I did not see him on the morning of the 8th when I returned to the country.
"I understand that he was due back on a different flight. I understand that he flew back on 8 March. I also understand that about five minutes before he checked in to come back on that flight, he claimed that I had head-butted him in the Pig and Whistle on the evening of 6 March."
The tribunal was told that Mr Meek had a black eye when he arrived for his flight.
He heard nothing more about the events until 14 April when he was told he was being suspended for allegedly assaulting Mr Meek.
He said: "I said that that was a joke. I said 'yeah right' in a sarcastic way. I then said if anybody should be suspended it should be Paul Meek who I feared could be a neo Nazi.
"For someone who is English and has only lived in Germany for two years, he has such extreme views and shows so much support for what the German Nazis did to the Jews."
Mr Van der Velde, who lives near Lisburn, Northern Ireland, was eventually dismissed in August.
He is now claiming unfair dismissal against the company.
However Marc Learoyd, Worldwide Crew Manager at the time who conducted the disciplinary hearing, told the tribunal Mr Meek claimed Mr Van der Velde had spoken with him on the flight over, told him he was Jewish and "said the only good German was a dead German."
In the bar that evening, Mr Van der Velde "had berated him for living in Germany" and the disagreement resulted in him headbutting Mr Meek, he said.
He said: "I find it strange that noone in the Pig and Whistle said they saw the assault take place. However, with my 17 years experience of crew, I thought there was a real possibility that the crew were 'sticking together' to cover up the assault."
He added: "It was clear from [Mr Meek's] interview that he did not want to take the matter further so it seemed unlikely to me that he had made the allegation up to get Jean-Paul in trouble."