Army pledges to stamp out racism in ranks

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The Independent Online
CHRISTOPHER BELLAMY

Defence Correspondent

The Army has agreed to a radical shake-up of its treatment of ethnic minorities after a two-year investigation revealed widespread racism.

A highly critical report is to be released by the Commission for Racial Equality and the Ministry of Defence this morning. The inquiry was triggered by an incident when Corporal Jake Malcolm, a black soldier from the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, was advised against transferring to the Household Cavalry because, he was told, black people would not be welcome. He complained to the Army authorities and was eventually awarded pounds 6,500 compensation in 1992. He was promoted to sergeant and is still serving.

The report focuses on racial discrimination in the Household Cavalry, but cites evidence of racism elsewhere in the armed forces. Following "intense negotiations" the Army and the commission have agreed on detailed monitoring of racial groups, disciplinary measures to be taken against racism, and a tight schedule for the Army to put its affairs in order. It includes wider recommendations to help increase the percentage of black and Asian people entering the forces and to improve their career opportunities.

So far, the forces have failed to meet their targets for recruitment from ethnic minorities. Worst was the Navy, which recruited only 0.6 per cent from minority groups against a target of 1.1 per cent. The Royal Air Force recruited 1.2 per cent against a target of 1.5; the Army was just ahead of its target, taking 1 per cent against a target of 0.9. But the Household Cavalry and the Foot Guards have virtually no recruits from the ethnic minorities.

The commission and the MoD have refused to comment until the report is released this morning but it is understood the inquiry found frequent cases of barrack-room abuse as well as the particular case of Cpl Malcolm. The Army will also initiate new training courses and equal opportunities advisers will be appointed in each regular battalion or regiment.

Bernie Grant, Labour MP for Tottenham who has represented five victims of racial harassment in the forces in as many years, believes that recruiting individual black and Asian soldiers will not be enough to overcome racism which, although officially condemned, has been widely condoned in the Army.

"I feel the Army is the same as the police," Mr Grant said. "My approach is that we should recruit black people in numbers and not disperse them but keep them together so they can support themselves. There also needs to be some kind of quick promotion scheme which can attract black graduates into the officer corps."

MoD sources yesterday said they were fully behind the drive to eliminate racial discrimination, but counselled against too close a comparison with the police. Senior MoD officials said the police worked as part of society, whereas the Army was more separate.

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