Ombudsman warns racism prevalent in the British armed forces

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LONDON: In an exclusive interview with the BBC, Nicola Williams, the first person to hold the office of Service Complaints Ombudsman, said “incidents of racism are occurring with increasing and depressing frequency”.

She urged the Ministry of Defence (MoD) to do more to root it out. The MoD has insisted it has a range of measures in place to tackle racism.

Cases of bullying, harassment and discrimination account for 25% of all the complaints the ombudsman receives, and Ms Williams says a “disproportionate” number of those come from ethnic minorities who make up just 7% of the armed forces.

The BBC has interviewed one former soldier whose complaint of racism was at first dismissed by the Ministry of Defence, but then upheld by the Ombudsman.

Mark De Kretser, whose father came from Sri Lanka, served as a regular soldier and then as a reserve for nearly 30 years.

He did tours of both Iraq and Afghanistan. But it wasn’t combat which left him with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, it was racism.

He describes it as “relentless”. He says he was asked whether someone in his family ran a corner shop. “I’d be referred to as Apu, out of the Simpsons, I’d be referred to as Gary Coleman, Buddha… and there’s a common theme to all of them.

“It got to the point where I wasn’t worried about how I performed at work. I was worried about what was going to be said to me next”.

Mark had a breakdown and was medically discharged from the Army in 2017. He sued the MoD and has now received a financial settlement.

His solicitor, Ahmed Al-Nahhas, the head of military claims at Bolt Burdon Kemp, says he sees many more servicemen and women who ask about their legal rights, but who don’t make a formal complaint “because they’re afraid for their careers or they don’t have faith in the system”.