A Newcastle leisure operator says they "cannot apologise enough for the malicious and fictitious emails sent to customers" after bookings were cancelled based on apparent social media profiles and looks.
Cyclone Leisure, which operates Okana bar and restaurant on Westgate Road in Newcastle, released a statement saying they were "shocked and saddened" by the booking system "hoax", which was issued from inside their booking system. The company apologised "unreservedly" for the incident and contacted police.
Up to 2,000 customers received an email saying their prospective booking had been cancelled as they "aren't the right fit" for the "specific market" the bar was targeting. Some recipients posted screenshots of the emails they had received, claiming to have been discriminated against, which were shared thousands of times on social media.
We cannot apologise enough for the malicious and fictitious emails sent to customers, which we suspect may have come from a disgruntled former employee who has accessed the system unlawfully. We have issued a statement to our customers and are working to mitigate any offence caused and of course we have involved the Police and the booking system provider to get to the bottom of this.
A spokesperson for Northumbria Police told ITV Tyne Tees, "We are aware of a report of malicious communications in connection with a Newcastle restaurant and officers are investigating. Enquiries are ongoing."
The CEO of Cyclone Leisure said the group was taking this matter extremely seriously and are supporting one of their "highly regarded employees" Dawn Swanston, who was named sender of the email.
Dawn Swanston, Group Operations Manager, who lives in Gosforth, said she is devastated about the incident. Dawn has been subject to intense trolling online as a result.
“Some of the comments on social media are dreadful. Someone has even lifted pictures of my grandchildren off my page and is circulating them with awful comments. I suffer from anxiety and this is all very upsetting for me and my family.
I can understand people being furious about the email they received, which of course had my name on it, but I can assure them all, this did not come from me.
Some people are asking if I will resign after this, but I would never do that. I waited a long time to get a job that I really love, and this is a great business to be part of with a very bright future. We have big plans in the pipeline, and I am determined that these will not be affected by what has gone on here.
The company said an external booking site is used for all bookings, which holds customer data. They have confirmed Dawn Swanston will not leave her position following the incident.
Affected customers are asked to expect a follow up email to re-confirm their booking, with an apology.
“We are determined to do our utmost at Okana to protect our staff and we have referred this matter to the Police and to our legal advisers and will ensure that the person or persons responsible are dealt with accordingly.