Our Trustees

Rich Watts profile picture

Rich Watts

Rich joined DLS as Chair in February 2018. After starting his career as a Community Officer in local government he joined the Disability Rights Commission to support, promote and enhance disabled people’s rights and equality. Following this, for nearly 10 years he was director of a disabled people’s user-led organisation which ensured disabled people’s voices were represented, promoted independent living and provided a wide range of services with and for disabled people. After work with the Department of Health, the Office for Disability Issues, as a mental health specialist and at Think Local Act Personal , Rich is now the lead for strategy and scale in the Personalised Care Group at NHS England.

He lives with his wife and three children in Bath, where he is also a governor of his local primary school. He has lived experience of mental health problems.

Alexander Woolfson

Alexander Woolfson

Alexander Woolfson is a regular commentator on foreign affairs, with a particular focus on defence and security. He writes, lectures and consults for both the public and private sectors about managing risk in the changing security environment. Alexander is a former BBC radio producer for the ‘World at One’ and ‘PM’. He also served as senior communications adviser to the BBC. Educated at Cambridge, the London School of Economics and Harvard, Alexander holds a doctorate in the history of US grand strategy and has held visiting fellowships at Harvard University and the American Political Science Association. He is a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society.

Berit Thoresen

Berit Thoresen

Berit Thoresen joined the Board of Trustees in April 2016. Prior to that she was a volunteer at DLS’s office at the same time as studying for a Postgraduate Diploma in Legal Practice.  Berit has first hand experience of some of the legal fights disabled people and their carers may face, having had to fight herself to get provisions in place for her youngest son who has severe learning difficulties, left sided hemiplegia, severe epilepsy, and communication and behaviour difficulties.

Berit is also a trustee of another charity that provides services to children and adults with learning difficulties and has previously volunteered for Face2Face/Scope, Barnardo’s and the Royal National Institute of Blind People. Berit is originally from Denmark, where she studied for a Masters degree in Public Administration and worked as a consultant in Performance Audit in Norway before relocating to London.  Berit is married and has two sons

Brenda Parkes

Brenda Parkes

Brenda Parkes is an independent equality, diversity and human rights consultant who provides advice, guidance and training as well as conducts audits and investigations. Prior to becoming a consultant she worked at the Equality and Human Rights Commission as a senior lawyer carrying out regulatory work and providing legal advice to staff and Commissioners. She was previously at the Commission for Racial Equality where she worked initially on policy and casework handling individual complaints, and later on as a lawyer in the enforcement team. Brenda is also a member of the Discrimination Law Association which publishes briefings, holds seminars and submits responses to government consultations.

Brenda is a trustee of the Communities Empowerment Network which provides advocacy services to parents of children who have been excluded from school, including those at risk of permanent exclusion. She is also a trustee of the Race Equality Foundation which promotes race equality in social support and public services.

Mark Newbery

Mark works at a City law firm which he joined in 1980. He spent two years in New York and four in Singapore with the firm and over his career has worked on over 200 projects in the power sector in more than 60 countries. He has been active in the firm’s pro bono initiatives over the years especially helping charities with their commercial contracts. He is also a director of a number of renewable energy companies.

As a trustee, he hopes to help DLS protect and enhance the rights of disabled people.

Vijay Samtani

Vijay Samtani

Vijay Samtani has been a trustee of Disability Law Service since April 2016. The majority of his professional life has been focused in IT and information security, working in a variety of large companies.

Vijay is currently Chief Information Security Officer at Cambridge University. He is a highly experienced security and risk technologist, and has designed and managed cyber security programmes for large and high-profile organisations, including the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics.

Vijay has cerebral palsy. He has been fortunate not to have suffered from overt discrimination against him, but also fortunate to have had support from formal and informal advocates throughout his life. He worked for a period early in his career in a pioneering law firm that specialised in representing vulnerable people, and learned in that time how easily discrimination and legal processes can harm those without good representation and advice, and conversely, how important access to legal representation is in empowering disabled people.

Emma Vogelmann

Emma graduated from Queen Mary University of London with her Law degree in 2016. While at university, she interned for three years with the British Institute of Human Rights and was the Assistant Editor of the Queen Mary Human Rights Law Review. Since then she has volunteered with Amnesty International to increase awareness of disability related issues. Emma has worked at Muscular Dystrophy UK for three years where she leads on their disabled employment work including writing the Ready and Able report launched at Parliament in 2019.
Emma has Spinal Muscular Atrophy and has used a ventilator via a tracheotomy since 2009 when she contracted the Swine Flu.

John Horan

On the day before the millennium John Horan had a stroke – it changed his life and made him a passionate discrimination lawyer. His extensive experience in battling for the rights of disabled people has led to expertise in employment, goods and services, education and public authorities.

John was the first barrister to receive guidance from the EAT about disabled people’s rights before any court or tribunal. In 2016 John was listed by Power 100 as one of Britain’s most influential disabled people. In 2015 John hosted the European Commission’s Monitoring Conference in Brussels on the Rights of People with Disabilities and the Courts.

John successfully challenged the state honour system in Trindad for fostering differences and not being in compliance with international law. He also successfully challenged the terms offered to part-time high court judges as discriminatory at Croydon Employment Tribunal.

His views have lead to him being regularly interviewed by BBC’s Ouch! and the national media and press. He champions the rights of the disability community and was awarded Bar Council “Pro Bono Lawyer for the Year” in 2003.

John appears frequently for law centres, the FRU, ELAAS, Bar Pro Bono Unit and the Disability Law Service as well as well-known solicitors firms.

Edward Richards

Edward is Director of Cutting Edge Design and Founder and Director of bookONE. Originally he worked as an IT software programmer before moving to design. He has a passion for inclusion, and loves looking at issues and thinking about how to resolve them through design and technology.

As a native Deaf British Sign Language (BSL) user Edward can view a potential barrier from a deaf perspective and suggest solutions. Edward is a strong advocate for equality and sits on various forums, committees and access advisory panels within the Health, Council, Museums and Galleries sectors. He has also sat on a major NHS procurement panel with his expertise as a deaf service user.

He enjoys sports and ten years ago, returned to playing his favourite sport, hockey and became a qualified Level 1 Umpire earlier in 2016. He plays for Wapping Hockey Club MX (known as the X-Men) team. He regularly put himself forward to challenge his own abilities which has allowed him to do things he never thought he would, including being part of the London Paralympics Opening Ceremony aerial team in 2012. He regularly gives talks using BSL in museums and galleries across London.