Bookies refused service to a man with Huntington’s disease claiming he was drunk or on drugs.

Stephen Owellen went to place a bet at the William Hill store on Athenaeum Street in Sunderland last Saturday (October 14) when staff claimed he was drunk or on drugs and turned him away.

But Stephen, 38, has the degenerative and incurable Huntington’s disease which can cause difficulty moving, stumbling, and problems speaking, and hadn’t touched a drop of alcohol or any drugs.

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He told the Echo: “The girl behind the counter said, ‘I don’t know what you’ve had but you won’t get served in here.’

“I tried to tell her I had Huntington’s, but she didn’t say anything.

“I don’t go into the shop often; I normally use online betting.

“I did an online chat to complain when I got home but they didn’t apologise and blocked my online account. I had about £5 in there too.

“I used William Hill all the time but won’t anymore.”

The Northern Echo: Stephen Owellen, who has Huntington's Disease, with partner Leanne outside of the William Hill shop

The betting firm has now issued Stephen with an apology and committed to training staff.

Stephen, from Sunderland, was diagnosed about three years ago and has had to give up his job as a plasterer. He has difficulties with his bodily movements and speech.

The Huntington’s Disease Association (HDA), which offers training to companies and supports sufferers, said it had heard of others being turned away from betting shops, adding there is little understanding of the disease.

It is passed on from a person’s parents and symptoms often start between aged 30 and 50 and is usually fatal after a period of up to 20 years.

Cath Stanley, HDA Chief Executive, said: “Huntington's disease is an inherited disease that affects the body’s nervous system. It affects people’s ability to think, they have involuntary movements, an unsteady gait and slurred speech.

The Northern Echo: William Hill on Athenaeum Street in Sunderland.William Hill on Athenaeum Street in Sunderland. (Image: SARAH CALDECOTT)

“Unfortunately, there is little understanding of the disease, and it is quite rare.

“Sadly, this sometimes leads people to assume that someone is drunk or on drugs. I am sure you can imagine the distress this causes people.

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“If just one person learns more about Huntington's disease, it can contribute to reducing the negative stigma associated with the condition.”

William Hill said it profusely apologises to Stephen and will look at how to prevent the incident re-occuring.

A spokesperson for the betting firm said: We would like to sincerely apologise to Mr Owellen. Our shop colleague believed that they were operating in his best interest, but his experience clearly falls short of our high standards.

“We are in contact with our shop teams about how such an incident can be avoided going forward. Regarding his account, we are in touch with Mr Owellen on accessing his remaining funds.”