Ombudsman warns 'racism is prevalent' within the armed forces

19 December 2019, 09:04

The MoD said racism has no place in the military
The MoD said racism has no place in the military. Picture: PA
EJ Ward

By EJ Ward

"Racism is prevalent" within the armed forces, the independent ombudsman overseeing complaints in the services has warned.

The official ombudsman has said racist incidents are occurring with "increasing and depressing frequency," before calling on the Ministry of Defence to do more to tackle racism among service personnel.

Bullying, harassment and discrimination make up 25 per cent of all the complaints the ombudsman receives, with a "disproportionate" number of those complaining coming from the 7 per cent of ethnic minorities who serve within the military.

Nicola Williams, the service complaints ombudsman told the BBC that "incidents of racism are occurring with increasing and depressing frequency."

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Defence said the department is committed to stamping out racism and that anyone behaving in such a way will be disciplined, discharged or dismissed.

Ms Williams, who said she is waiting for the MoD to act on a number of her recommendations, said she "would not go as far" as to describe the Army as "institutionally racist".

But she added: "I would absolutely say the Army and the armed forces have issues with racism which need to be tackled."

It comes after a high-profile case in which two service personnel took legal action following allegations of racism.

Two former paratroopers claimed they were subjected to racial harassment while in the army that created a “degrading, humiliating and offensive environment” for them, an employment judge found.

Nkululeko Zulu and Hani Gue alleged that they had suffered racial discrimination and harassment, and the Army did not take reasonable steps to prevent it.

The tribunal heard that someone had drawn a swastika, a Hitler moustache and the words "F*** off" and "n******" on photographs of the men at their barracks, which was only accessible by key.

Employment judge Richard Baty said it was "unquestionably related to race", adding in a written judgment that the unknown perpetrator sought to create an "intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating and offensive environment" for the two men.

An annual report from the ombudsman last year highlighted that the service complaints system was not "efficient, effective or fair".

Ms Williams said at the time that there was a "continued disproportionality" of complaints from female and ethnic minority staff, as well as people being dissuaded from coming forward.

The Ministry of Defence has been called upon to  to do more to tackle racism among service personnel
The Ministry of Defence has been called upon to to do more to tackle racism among service personnel. Picture: PA

An MoD spokesman said: "Racism has no place in the military and anyone found to be behaving in such a way can expect to be disciplined, discharged or dismissed.

"We are committed to stamping it out and have a range of measures to ensure that this issue is tackled.

"This includes creating a new team to deal more quickly and effectively with complaints by service personnel of racism, shifting the culture of the armed forces so that everyone feels included, with even more emphasis on stronger leadership action and improved education and training.

"Earlier this year we published the Wigston Report to further address inappropriate behaviour in the armed forces."