STAFF at a fast-food restaurant have been slammed as “heartless” after asking a disabled seven-year-old to leave for being too noisy.
Brooke Kirkness, who can only communicate through shouting, was taken to KFC by her step-dad and granddad on Tuesday night as a special treat while mum Stephanie, 24, was on a rare break abroad.
But the youngster from Penicuik, who suffers from Rett syndrome, is unable to speak and cannot feed herself, was asked to “stop shouting or leave” by an employee.
Brooke was part way through her favourite popcorn chicken when her family was asked to leave by staff who said there had been complaints from customers at the branch in Meadowbank Retail Park.
A spokesman for the restaurant today apologised for upsetting Brooke and her family and said staff were unaware of her disability – but charities for the neurological complaint said it would have been “obvious to anyone”.
Brooke was diagnosed with the condition two years to the day after hero dad David Kirkness, 24, was killed by a suicide bomber in Afghanistan while on tour with the 3 Rifles in 2009.
Step-dad David Ellis, 23, who also serves in the army, worked hard to restore mum Steph’s confidence after previous bad experiences for the Saltersgate pupil put her off taking Brooke out regularly.
He said this would be another setback for her when she returns home today.
He said: “We were sat down and a member of staff came over and said to Brooke, ‘Excuse me, you’re going to have to stop shouting or we’ll have to ask you to leave.’
“They said that to a disabled seven-year-old. It’s disgusting. I told them she’s disabled and they just said ‘she either stops screaming, or you get out’.
“I was horrified and said I’m not having someone tell her to shut up when she can’t help it.”
Brooke’s cousin, Levi, 13, took her out to the car while David and grandad John Greens complained to staff and took down the head office details.
Speaking through tears, construction worker John, 58, said: “The only way she can communicate is to scream. She was happy and that’s what she was making a noise for.
“The manager came and told us we had to leave. It was humiliating and made my blood boil. It’s totally heartless.”
Lorna Jaffa, chairwoman of Rett UK, said it was disappointing Brooke had been treated like this.
She said: “People with Rett syndrome are profoundly disabled, they cannot do anything for themselves like speak, feed themselves, they do not have use of their hands and it is very unfortunate the restaurant felt the need to ask them to leave.
“I think you can look and appreciate that there is something not quite right with the child. It would be pretty obvious to anyone.”
A spokesperson for KFC said: “We can only apologise for the upset this experience has caused Brooke and her family, however after investigating in store and studying CCTV we believe this to be an unfortunate misunderstanding. The manager did speak with the family, but apologised as soon as it was explained to her that Brooke had a disability and left them to finish their meal, and the family left the restaurant on their own accord, fifteen minutes later.
“We pride ourselves on welcoming everybody into our restaurants, and we wouldn’t want anybody to think that this wasn’t the case. We have been in touch with Brooke’s mother and grandfather to apologise for the misunderstanding or if we made them feel uncomfortable in any way, and have invited them back to the store for a meal on the house, as well as offering to make a donation to Rett UK in their name.”
Rare type of autism
Rett syndrome is a degenerative brain disorder affecting one in 8500 females.
After birth, girls with classic Rett syndrome have six to 18 months of apparently normal development before then having severe problems with language and communication, learning and other brain functions.
Early in childhood, affected girls lose purposeful use of their hands and begin repeated hand wringing or clapping motions.
Parents are only alerted to a problem when their child’s skills stop developing. The rare type of autism leads to a range of severe health problems such as breathing irregularities, autistic-like behaviours and epilepsy.