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Award-winning musician Speech Debelle launches legal case against Arts Council England claiming race discrimination.

Speech Debelle pictured with the Mercury Prize award
Speech Debelle, who won the Mercury Prize in 2009, has been employed by ACE as a Relationship Manager

Suzan Moore/Alamy Stock Photo

A previous winner of the Mercury music prize has launched a legal case against Arts Council England (ACE), claiming to be the victim of race discrimination.

Speech Debelle, whose real name is Corynne Elliot, won the prestigious award in 2009 for her album Speech Therapy ahead of nominees including Bat for Lashes, Florence + The Machine and Kasabian.

A notice published by HM Courts & Tribunals Service reveals that an initial hearing on the case took place via video link in December.


During the hearing ACE's legal representative applied to have the claim struck out - a legal move to have a case dismissed - typically pursued on the basis that it is unfounded or weak.

However, Employment Judge M Joyce, dismissed the application, meaning that the case will be scheduled for a full hearing.

A separate application from ACE for a deposit order - requiring the claimant to put up a sum of money if they want to continue with their claim - was also dismissed.

Relationship Manager role

Elliot's website shows that she has been employed as a Relationship Manager at ACE - a role that involves monitoring the performance of regularly funded National Portfolio Organisations, advising applicants to funding programmes, and working with stakeholders to identify opportunities and challenges within the sector.

"Her desire to empower diverse voices saw her take up a role as Relationship Manager at Arts Council England," a bio on the Speech Debelle website states. 

"She has worked with National Portfolio Organisations, Music Education Hubs and helped develop Project Grant, [Developing Your Creative Practice] and other funding applications. 

"With activism and true diversity always close to her heart, she has set up the Influencers Masterclasses for BAME influencers, contributing to her already focused ability at raising the number of successful BAME applicants."

Elliot has also received funding herself from ACE in the past, being awarded two grants totalling £27,406 in 2020/21 for a music project called Sunday Dinner on a Monday. An album of the same name is due to be released next month.

A spokesperson for Elliot said: “This is an ongoing legal process and Corynne is not commenting at this time."

A spokesperson for ACE said: “Arts Council England are unable to comment as legal proceedings are ongoing.”