Three white men – who were referred to as “useless white male pilots” – have demanded that their unsuccessful applications be reviewed after the RAF admitted to unlawfully favouring the applications of women and ethnic minorities. 

According to Deborah Haynes, defence editor at Sky News, the RAF has breached equality legislation in its mission to make the force more diverse. In an exclusive report, Haynes has revealed that despite apologising for breaking equality legislation and blaming the mistake on poor legal advice, the RAF has yet to face any sanctions for its discrimination. Not only that, none of the top brass have received any punishment, and some have even been promoted. 

For example, Air Chief Marshal Sir Mike Wigston retired in June with a red arrow flypast despite being the chief of staff who made diversity a top priority and oversaw unlawful discrimination. Air Vice-Marshal Maria Byford, who is currently chief of staff for another month, is entitled to a salary of £179,000 per year until her retirement which has not been announced. Group Captain William Dole, who was the head of recruitment during the period in question is being promoted. 

A person who worked in RAF recruitment who chose to remain anonymous told Sky News that there was a widespread “feeling of unease” about what they were being asked to do: namely, favouring certain female or ethnic minority recruits over white men purely because of their immutable identity characteristics rather than merit. 

“It was literally people just constantly saying: this is wrong. I don’t feel comfortable doing this because this to me feels like positive discrimination,” the source said.

The three unsuccessful applicants have chosen to remain anonymous, but one of them said: “I think it’s awful, to be honest…So many lives would have been affected by it – some maybe even ruined because it [a career in the RAF] is something people dream about their whole lives. For there to be no action, nothing really done about it, just an apology, it feels very cheap.”

The controversy has been ongoing for over a year since the resignation of Group Captain Lizzy Nicholl. She was the head of recruitment after William Dole and quit in protest as she felt it was wrong that she was being told to favour women and ethnic minorities over white men for spaces on training courses. Nicholl’s resignation sparked the inquiry which found 161 cases of unlawful positive discrimination. 

Last summer, James Heappey, the Armed Forces minister, said that those found responsible for any positive discrimination “will be held vigorously to account”. In June, the outgoing defence secretary Ben Wallace said that although “military output wasn’t put at risk” as everyone considered was of merit, the way the white men who were unsuccessful were treated was “wrong and unsatisfactory”. 

An RAF spokesperson said it had “accepted the recommendations in full and these are being implemented.”

“The RAF has rigorously scrutinised its recruiting practices and will continually monitor these processes, to ensure there is no repeat of the mistakes that were made in the past.”

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