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Feb
22

British ski instructors arrested in France
Saturday February 22, 2014 - Email this article to a friend

Seven instructors have been arrested for allegedly teaching illegally in Megeve. Three were kept in jail overnight. It is the latest development in a long-running dispute involving the company, Simon Butler Skiing.

The three ski instructors who spent the night in police cells - Simon Butler, Mark Gibbs and Alex Casey - were arrested last Tuesday and taken into custody. 

The French authorities accused them of teaching without the correct qualifications under French law.

Simon Butler claims they have the correct qualifications under EU and International law. All were working for the tour operator, Simon Butler Skiing, which had a total of 7 instructors working last week.

"I was getting on a chairlift with some clients when three police officers appeared and demanded to see my papers. I produced them but I was taken away. The clients were left to fend for themselves as I was escorted to a local police station for questioning" said Simon Butler to PlanetSKI.

At the same time the other two instructors were arrested elsewhere on the mountain and 4 other instructors also detained.

"This was a carefully orchestrated operation, done in the busy half-term week, designed to cause maximum disruption to myself, the business and the British guests. I was questioned at the police station and kept overnight in disgusting conditions," added Simon Butler.

The company had 120 clients in its chalets last week.

He was detained in a basement cell that had a concrete slab as a bed and 2 blankets, one of which Mr Butler says was filthy. There was a hole in the floor for a toilet.

"The cell door slammed at 19.15 and re-opened the next day at 09.15. It was completely unnecessary to keep me overnight as I am not a threat to myself or anyone else and actually live just a few hundred metres from the local police station," said Simon Butler. "It was outrageous and disgusting and is a new low for the French authorities."

He claims the temperature was below freezing overnight and he was only able to keep warm as he was still in his ski instructor's uniform and dressed for the mountains.

The following day, Wednesday, he was questioned further before being driven to court in Bonneville where he was charged with teaching without the correct qualifications.

"I was driven down the mountain at speed with the sirens wailing and blue light flashing as if I was a common criminal. It was completely over-the-top."

He was released and will appear before the court in Bonneville on April 7th along with the others.  The other two men were released earlier in the day after being detained over-night.

Among the charges he faces are use of non-qualified staff and employment irregularities.

French authorites say he has been consistently flouting the law over a period of time.

Simon Butler Skiing, has been operating for 31 years. It takes 1,600 people skiing each season and has a guest return rate of 94%.

He runs two chalet-hotels in the resort and offers clients 2 hours of instruction per day.

Other instructors from Simon Butler Skiing - Adam Alder-Cox, Jim Wilkins, Ross Medcalf and Philip May - were arrested but not kept overnight in police cells. They face charges of teaching without the correct qualifications.

All 7 instructors face a sentence of 3-months in jail if found guilty.

Simon Butler SkiingSimon Butler Skiing

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

According to current French law instructors need to be either working through their qualifications with a certified ski school or hold the top-level ISTD qualification.

Simon Butler holds the ISTD qualification, but some other instructors who work for Simon Butler Skiing do not.

The qualification standards are complex but essentially there are four levels awarded by the British Association of Snowsports Instructors (BASI), with Level 1 being the lowest and Level 4 (ISTD) the highest.

It is possible to teach on snow in the UK, in Scotland, with a Level 2 grading, but to teach in France, outside the certified ski schools, a Level 4 is required.

The French view the BASI Level 4 as equivalent to its own grade.

Sections of the media, in particular the national press such as the Daily Mail, have picked up on the story and are portraying the story as the French against all British instructors.

It is not.

There are many British Level 4 instructors, currently working quite legitimately in France, who suport the action of the French authorities. They respect and support the strict qualification rules.

Some argue that Simon Butler knows the rules and that he has been deliberately flouting the regulations, courting controversy and arrest.

Simon Butler Skiing has been ordered to stop teaching pending the court case. It has done so and will be offering refunds to all customers. It will cost the company an estimated £32,000.

Simon Butler is currently not allowed to leave France. He was unable to go to Geneva airport at the weekend and has to report to the local police once a week.

"Mr. Butler is not a criminal but is being treated as one," said his lawyer, Philippe Planes.

He added that his client had filed a complaint with the European Commission accusing France of discrimination and restricting his freedom of movement.

Simon Butler has had several brushes with the law and other cases have been to court.

One of his instructors, Alex Casey who was also arrested this week, was detained last year and spent the night in jail as we reported here.

In 2013 Simon Butler was fined €10,000 and given a 6-month jail sentence, but that case is under appeal.

He was also in court in 2004.

His legal team say he is being treated like a criminal and his British license allows him to teach in France as the country has to respect the qualifications of a fellow EU member state.

"I am looking forward to the court case on April 7th and am confident I will win and it will be a test case for other qualified British instructors to be able to work, quite legally in France," added Simon Butler.

He has said that if he looses he will go to appeal at a higher court in Chambery.

We will be following the case on PlanetSKI and it could have significant implications for other ski instructors.

In a separate legal case British tour operators have been banned from offering ski hosting in France after a case last year, as we reported at the time.

An appeal will be held on that judgement later this year.

Simon Butler SkiingSimon Butler Skiing

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

News Update: The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, has joined the debate with this article in the Daily Telegraph.

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