‘I was virtually being accused of racism, which is ridiculous. I’ve cut the hair of people from all walks of life, including transsexuals, and you can hardly run an alternative salon if you are prejudiced.’
Help came when a friend tipped off a reporter about what was happening, and Sarah’s case gained publicity, first locally, then nationally. Since then, she has received support from hundreds of people in the hairdressing industry, including black celebrity stylist Errol Douglas.
Still, the wave of support did little to ease the stress as she fought to clear her name.
‘For months, I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t eat, I felt as though my whole life was on hold. All I could see was that I’d be forced into bankruptcy and lose my business.’
In the course of preparing for her trial, Sarah estimates she has lost £40,000 of her salon’s annual income.
She also faced a further blow when it emerged that Bushra had increased the figure to £34,000 to compensate for hate mail she had received following Press coverage of the trial.
In March, Sarah faced a three- day employment tribunal, and endured four hours of cross-examination.
‘I managed to defend myself and not cry, but it was incredibly difficult,’ she says. ‘I’d even had to ask my accountant, who is a Muslim, and another Muslim friend to write letters confirming that I am not racist. The whole experience was so humiliating and, most importantly, unnecessary.’
‘I kept thinking: “I’ve worked hard all my life – how can it be possible that someone can come into my shop, talk to me for ten minutes and then sue me for £34,000? How is that possibly fair?”.’