A report by the Office of Public Management, an independent think-tank, was particul- arly critical of the Navy which, it said, was "not justified in describing itself as an equal opportunities employer".
The study found that terms of racial abuse were still widespread as part of the procedure for knocking recruits into shape during initial training, and that many senior officers condoned this practice and the use of racist language.
The report coincided within a Channel 4 Dispatches programme, "Racism in the Army" last night, which highlighted four cases of racial harassment. Whereas such cases were the worst examples, the OPM report identified far wider incidence of racial discrimination.
The report came as a bombshell to many senior officers in the services who insist that no problem exists. In June last year, the Armed Forces launched an initiative to monitor its workforce, recruit more members of ethnic minorities and train commanders at every level in equal opportunities. However, the report said. "while we commend these efforts, we strongly suspect full implementation will not be achieved until all dimensions of `the problem' are recognised."
The report found that only about 1 per cent of the personnel in the Armed Forces are of ethnic minority origin, compared with 6 per cent in the workforce as a whole. Among officers, the proportion is even smaller, and there are no minority admirals or generals. The highest ranking non- white officers are an army brigadier and an air commodore.
Yesterday, senior MoD sources said they broadly accepted the criticisms but that it was difficult to increase the number of non-white people in senior positions given the small number in the organisation as a whole. A senior RAF officer said the long-term aim was to bring the proportion closer to 6 per cent, though, he said, a quota would be illegal.
The Navy came out worst. The researchers found the widely expressed view that black people "did not like water", "cannot fight", "are prevented from leaving home by their parents" and "want special diets and you cannot have that in a fighting force".
Other comments included "where would you pray to Mecca on a submarine?"
The team was told that that terms such as "Midnight" or "Snowy" were seen as terms of affection, rather than abuse.
"Regrettably", the report continued, "there were some senior officers (that is, captain RN and above), who did not find the terms `coon' or `nigger' unacceptable, with perhaps the proviso - `I wouldn't say that in front of a coloured person'."
Racially offensive language, behaviour and attitudes remained "a significant feature of life in the army" and the RAF. The report cited the RAF practice of "packaging", so that high-profile activities, such as guards of honour for VIPs, should feature no "blacks, pakis, spots or specs".
Dispatches investigated four more extreme cases of racism in the Army. Winston Clay suffered six years of racial abuse in the Royal Artillery. He was called "coon", "nigger" and "wog", and eventually went absent without leave. He was then arrested and sent to a military prison, which he said he preferred, because there were no racist taunts. He left the army last month.
Mark Parchment, a Royal Marine, told Dispatches that during his training, "a corporal came into our accommodation and presented me with a spear. He said this is going to be my personal weapon and I would have to maintain it and keep it through training. He also nicknamed me badingi and said that from now on I was to be known in the section and throughout the troop as that name."
The most bizarre case was Soloman Raza who was abused and beaten on a daily basis while in basic training because his father was a Pakistani. While serving in Bosnia he was also accused of siding with the Muslims there.
"Some of them said to me, `We're going to do some Pakis, we're going to kill them all.' Then one of them turned round and said `Why do we have to wait until then? There's a Paki, let's give him a kicking', which they did." They ruptured a kidney, which put him in hospital for 10 days. After returning to Britain he attempted suicide.