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Asda reinstates Sash remark employee but denies bowing to protest

Supermarket giant Asda has denied it capitulated to demonstrators protesting in support of employee who was sacked for making allegedly sectarian comments.

William Hunter, a checkout worker at Asda’s Shore Road branch in north Belfast, won an appeal yesterday to return to his job after “he expressed regret for the unintentional offence caused” for comments he made about playing The Sash.

His sacking last week sparked four days of protests outside the store by his supporters.

Alliance councillor for the area Billy Webb said he welcomed the employee’s reinstatement but criticised the demonstration.

“The level of protest was uncalled for as it deprived local residents of accessing the shop,” he said. “Asda obviously have an internal management process and that should have been allowed to take place.”

Billy Hutchinson, a former PUP Assembly member, who was among the demonstrators, said the sacked worker was “really well liked” and not the type of person to act in a sectarian manner.

“We are there because this is political correctness gone mad,” Mr Hutchinson said.

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“He didn’t call anyone names or offend anyone but apparently this throwaway remark, said for a laugh, was overheard.”

An Asda spokeswoman said their standard appeal process is held within seven days and denied the protest had any influence on the outcome of the appeal.

A joint statement was issued by Asda and Mr Hunter yesterday.

It said: “Today's independent appeal in front of a senior Asda representative reinstated William after he expressed regret for the unintentional offence caused by the words he used when speaking to customers at the store. Asda is not a political company that ever takes sides.

“Both Asda, William and his colleagues are now looking forward to drawing a line under what happened and getting back to the business of serving customers.”

A Facebook group in support of Mr Hunter was last night claiming victory for the protesters.

SDLP North Belfast MLA Alban Maginness called the demonstration an “over-reaction by local people” and said the protests had been “unhelpful” but added he was pleased that Mr Hunter had been reinstated.

He said: “Asda has provided employment and service to the people of North Belfast in the past and hopefully in the future and is an asset to the area.

“I do not see a capitulation here, rather that Mr Hunter has gone through a process and has been cleared and I am glad he is being allowed to return to work.”

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