Hampstead Heath ponds a 'unique space' for disabled swimmers, court hears

Kenwood Ladies' Pond swimmers outside the Royal Courts of Justice as they battle against the charging structure

Kenwood Ladies' Pond swimmers outside the Royal Courts of Justice as they battle against the charging structure - Credit: Nathalie Raffray

Hampstead Heath ponds swimmers braved the cold outside the Royal Courts of Justice hoping the cost of taking a dip will be reduced or scrapped for the disabled.

Christina Efthimiou is embroiled in a High Court battle with the City of London Corporation (CoLC), claiming that prices at Kenwood Ladies’ Bathing Pond on Hampstead Heath “give rise to unlawful disability discrimination”.

The judicial review began on Wednesday (February 23).

 Pauline Latchem, a deaf member of the Kenwood Ladies Pond Association at the Royal Courts of Justice 

Pauline Latchem, a deaf member of the Kenwood Ladies Pond Association at the Royal Courts of Justice - Credit: Nathalie Raffray

Lawyers representing the City of London Corporation (CoLC) dispute her claim.

Zoe Lethenthal, acting on behalf of Christina,  told Mr Justice Cotter that the pond is a “unique space”.

Challenged by the judge on what what made it unique as elsewhere open water swimming had pricing structures, she said places such as the Royal Albert Dock were for people practicing for triathlons but that the Hampstead ponds had a "unique character".

"It's a qualitative difference" she added. 

Ms Lethanthal said a disabled person is likely to have medical, social and economic consequences in their lives and accused the CoLC of not monitoring the impacts of their pricing structure.

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"If you take away the swimming ponds for the claimant, it has a disproportionate effect on them because they need it for the benefits it brings," she said.

She said a reasonable adjustment to charges would be to make swimming free for disabled users,  to reduce costs by introducing direct debit, or the introducing a hardship fund which Justice Cotter said was "too discretionary" and a "nebulous concept".

Hampstead swimmers outside the Royal Courts of Justice

Hampstead swimmers outside the Royal Courts of Justice over charges at the Kenwood Ladies Pond for disabled swimmers - Credit: Nathalie Raffray

In her witness statement, KLPA member Ms Efthimiou, who is 60 and disabled, said the Ponds have become something she relies on mentally, emotionally and physically.

She said the impact of regular access to the ponds during the week “is huge as I do not need to take as much pain relief as I was previously taking.” 

Mary Powell, member of the Kenwood Ladies' Pond Association outside the Royal Courts of Justice

Mary Powell, member of the Kenwood Ladies' Pond Association outside the Royal Courts of Justice - Credit: Nathalie Raffray

A barrister representing the CoLC told the judge Ms Efthimiou’s claim should be dismissed.

Clive Sheldon QC told the judge: “Ticket prices are modest and subsidised by the corporation.

“Charges for disabled swimmers are even cheaper and more heavily subsidised because they incorporate a concession.”

He said the standard price for a single swim is £4.05 and disabled swimmers pay £2.43.

Mr Sheldon added: “It cannot be right that service providers are required by law to charge lower prices to disabled persons, or to other groups with protected characteristics.”

The hearing continues.