In the Media

'I can't help it that I shout and swear'

PUBLISHED July 18, 2006

A sufferer of Tourette Syndrome has hit out at a ban on him working with the public because he shouts out offensive words.

Lee East was employed by Bradford Council through a recruitment agency to work as a refuse collector and litter picker in the cleansing department from October 2004 to June 2005.

He returned to the same department on another four occasions on short term contracts.

But now Mr East, of Weyhill Drive, Allerton, Bradford, has been told that because of his condition he can no longer work in a role that involves contact with the public.

"I'm angry because I can't help having Tourette Syndrome," said Mr East, 29. "It feels like I'm being discriminated against because of my condition.

"I was told by the Council I was a good worker. I don't understand why they have said I can no longer do the job."

Mr East was diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome 15 years ago while at school.

"I have tics and shout bad language," he said. "I can control it but sometimes it just happens and there's nothing I can do about it."

Ian Bairstow, Bradford Council's head of waste management and street scene, said: "Lee East has worked for us in the past through a recruitment agency and we are happy for him to work for us in the future within our waste services department.

"We felt due to his condition a job working with the public was unsuitable because he involuntarily shouts out inappropriate remarks.

"We have offered him an alternative position in the recycling centre instead. We have many disabled people working for the Council and we do everything we can to accommodate their needs."

Judith Kidd, chief executive of the Tourette Syndrome (UK) Association, said: "It's very difficult to comment on this case because there are two understandable arguments.

"Lee has the right to work and should not be discriminated against because of his condition.

"But the Council has a duty to protect members of the public from language that they may find abusive.

"A case such as this has yet to be tested in the courts.

"It will be very interesting to see when one does come to court how the judge will rule.

"I do think in this instance that Bradford Council should be congratulated for trying to find him alternative employment."

She said public awareness of the condition had rocketed since Tourette sufferer Pete Bennett appeared on popular reality television show Big Brother.

"Public awareness of Tourette's is much greater now because of the exposure Big Brother has given the condition," she said.

"This can only be a good thing because it will help create tolerance and awareness of Tourette's."

Mr East said the Council's offer is of no use to him because the location of the recycling centre in Bowling Back Lane, Bradford, is too far from his home in Allerton for him to get there.

"I can't get there so their job offer is no good to me," he said.

  • Tourette Syndrome (TS) is a neurological disorder characterised by tics - involuntary, rapid, sudden movements that occur repeatedly in the same way. Tics are usually facial but can affect other body parts.
  • TS is inherited and affects at least one in 2,000 people in Britain.
  • TS sometimes causes people to make involuntary sounds such as clearing of the throat and sniffing.
  • Symptoms can sometimes disappear for a week or a month at a time. Some TS sufferers do have some control over their symptoms.
  • Other traits of TS can include obsessive compulsive disorder and attention deficit disorder.
  • Sleep disorders are fairly common among people with TS. These include frequent awakenings or walking or talking in one's sleep.
  • Only 10 to 15 per cent of people diagnosed with TS swear compulsively.