details of complaint of racism against welfare manager working in the UK Ministry of Defence. The claim became subject of a county court small which the MoD settled before a hearing.

[ The claim was issue at Birmingham County Court UK. I acted in-person and by my misunderstanding caused the significant victimisation element of the claim to be omitted. This major lesening of my overall claim, led me reluctantly, to agree to settlement without a court hearing. In the particular circumstances of the matter, I opted to donate the the out-of-court settlement money to a good cause. In settling, I rejected the MoD's attempt to insert a 'gagging-clause' in the settlement agreement.]

[ To read details of settlement agreement, please Click here.]


12 October 2010

Customer Services Manager
Services Personnel & Veterans Aagency (Veterans)
Ministry of Defence (UK)
Lancashire
FY5 3ZA


As agreed, I set-out below, details of the summarised claim I lodged with SPVA by an 08/10/2010 telephone call.

  1. I am African, Jamaica-born on 19 February 1946 and so was a British subject at birth. In 1956 I was moved with my mother, to England where my father worked. In 1972 I became registered as a UK citizen. In 1962 I enlisted into the British Army and served for sixteen years in the Royal Corps of Signals. I was demobbed in 1979 in the rank of Staff Sergeant with 20% disability of the knees. In 1996 I was re-assessed as 30% disabled. Since that time my mobility and level of pain has become substantially worse. I now walk with the support of a stick It was primarily this worsening condition why I decided to telephone the SPVA Kidderminster office to request a disability-review application form.

Complaint of race discrimination and negligent or unprofessional conduct

  1. My claim is of race discrimination against me by the SPVA and SPVA Welfare Manager, Miss Michelle Copson. The occurrence giving rise to my complaint, occurred during an appointed welfare visit to my home on 07/09/2010 when Miss Copson shocked and distressed me with her verbal declaration to me that, "If you [Mr Taylor] are not happy with life here [in the UK] why don't you go back to your own country?".
  2. I now also complain that the SPVA through the office of SPVA Regional Welfare Manager Mrs Sandra Price, acted without reasonable professionalism and duty of care when the matter of this complaint was reported through SPVA Welfare Manager Miss Michelle Copson (on 08/09/2010) and directly to Mrs Price by telephone (on 20/09/2010). This point of complaint adds to the summary of my complaint lodged by telephone on 08/10/2010. I believe this point falls under the responsibility of SPVA for the conduct of its staff at all levels, in delivering welfare services ex-services personnel.
  3. I complain that by their performance, the SPVA, Mrs Price, and Miss Copson racially discriminated against me and failed in their duty of care to me to provide a reasonable and professional service by their breach of the trust to deliver quality welfare service that promotes independence and maintains my dignity.

Remedy sought

  1. If my complaint is proved I will seek the following remedial actions to stimulate good practice and support avoidance of similar recurrence of damaging race discrimination:
  1. Review, revision and implementation of improved race awareness training and performance monitoring of staff at the SPVA Kidderminster office and more widely in the SPVA as may be warranted;
  2. A written copy of the findings, conclusions and recommendations of the SPVA investigation;
  3. Publication of the findings, conclusion and recommendations of the SPVA investigation without the naming of individual SPVA members of staff;
  4. Reasonable compensation commensurate with damage for injury to feelings, distress, and a lessening of confidence in SPVA to provide fair and reasonable welfare support within lawful and reasonably professional margins.

Some procedural points for fair-play

  1. I request that I am provided with copies of all statements or other information relevant to this complaint, that is submitted to or otherwise shared with the complaint investigators.
  2. I also request that copies of my the details of my complaint only made available to the investigators, until all other parties to my complaint have submitted their own equivalent statements or equivalent information.
  3. As provided for by SPVA policy or freedom of information and discrimination legislation, or otherwise, I will request SPVA to complete a race discrimination questionnaire and give me a copy of all information about me in SPVA control; including but not exclusively, reports, internal notes and memoranda and service records. Access to this information will enable to ensure that any such information is accurate and consistent with conditions for fair and reasonable investigation of this complaint and provision to me of SPVA services.
  4. I reserve the right to pursue my complaint outwith the scope of SPVA procedures, where there is not mutually satisfactory resolution and a cause of action exists under relevant discrimination legislation.

Facts, understanding and reaction to the events complained of:

  1. On 12/08/2010 I telephoned the Agency's Kidderminster office to ask: (1) to be sent a form to apply for review of my war disability; and, (2) for information about service and state pensions procedures leading up to my 65th birthday on 19/02/2011. The telephone correspondent advised me that a welfare visit would be needed to discuss to give me the disability review application form and to discuss the pensions matters. I queried the need for the expense of a welfare visit, when in earlier years, the SPVA Norcross-office simply sent me a form and advised me by telephone. The correspondent insisted that a home visit was necessary and said I would be sent an appointment.
  2. On 07/09/2010 as appointed by letter dated 13/8/2010, the Agency's Welfare Manager, Miss Michelle Copson visited me at my home. After initial courtesies Miss Copson asked for and noted details about my enlistment, Army service, and disabilities. I reported to Miss Copson that when demobilised in 1979, my disabilities were arthritis of both knees, and damage to my right shoulder and my right-eye.
  3. I told Miss Copson that my knees had worsened considerably in terms of mobility and pain. Miss Copson asked if I had considered knee replacement treatment. I told her I had and that a consultant had said the only treatment he could offer was replacement joints. I told Miss Copson that after consideration I had opted against knee replacements. Miss Copson spoke up for knee replacement treatment citing possible improvement of quality of life. In response I related a deeper account of my medical and philosophical resistance to replacement knees and wider aspects of life including some historically related aspects. Miss Copson must have found my philosophical views upon life to be unacceptable to her because she retorted,

    "If you [Mr Taylor] are not happy with life here [in the UK] why don't you go back to your own country?"

  4. I was shocked and aghast and very much taken aback by Miss Copson's declaration which I felt to be offensive and racist. I spluttered a rejection of her point and challenged her for saying so and I expressed my disappointment. Unfortunately, perhaps in shock, I had failed to ascertain from Miss Copson, either what had triggered her declaration that I should go back my "own country" and what country she deemed to be my "own country".
  5. I request that the SPVA investigators of my complaint invites Miss Copson to provide a written statement as to: (1) What had triggered her declaration to me that I should go back to my "own country"; and, (2) Which country she intended as being my "own country".
  6. By her replies to elementary questions I put to her about my Jamaica origins, I took the view that Miss Copson knew very little about England/Britain/UK-Jamaica history and may thus have difficulty dealing professionally with diversity and equality issues as might confront an SPVA welfare manager working with UK serving and ex-service people who are, is my situation, (ethnic) African and born in Jamaica or another West Indies country.
  7. At this point Miss Copson must have realised that I had been deeply hurt and disturbed by her declaration and she apologised and repeated her apology. At the time I felt that Miss Copson was apologising because she recognised I was deeply upset and not because she had made the declaration. But given the training one expects SPVA welfare staff to have had, I felt Miss Copson was either (a) fully aware that her declaration was professionally unacceptable as well as racially discriminatory, offensive and hurtful , or (b) the SPVA diversity and equalities training is deficient and or ineffective.
  8. I sought to remain composed and recover the situation so the welfare session might continue productively and I strove to do so without causing offence to Miss Copson. I explained to Miss Copson, the basis for my dissatisfaction with her declaration that I should consider returning to my "own country" in spite of people of my background putting their lives on the line with the armed forces of England/Britain/UK, both now and historically. Although I am not an academic and was schooled only up to secondary modern school level, I shared with Miss Copson some relevant points of my knowledge of England/Britain/UK-Jamaica history. I also outlined to Miss Copson, some relevant points from childhood in Jamaica, from my schoolboy experiences in the UK, and spoke of some relevant aspects of my service-life and my subsequent days.
  9. Equanimity was duly restored and the interview continued to an end. I received from Miss Copson the form [WPA0012] to apply for review of my war disability but I did not accept Miss Copson's offer of help to complete the form. I also said I would contact the UK pensions offices myself to get information about procedures related to the approach of my 65th birthday in February 2011. At the end of the visit I walked Miss Copson to my gate. I hope that I will have shown adequate courtesy.
  10. After the visit the more I reflected upon Miss Copson's declaration to me, the more pained and concerned I felt but tried to play-down the matter in my mind. In that effort banish my negative feelings, I wrote a faxed-letter to Miss Copson to thank her for specific aspects of her visit. I expressed hope that I had not talked too much to her. As a more pleasant aside, in my letter I asked Miss Copson for help to trace pupil with whom I had attended primary school in West Bromwich back in 1957. In our post-declaration recovery conversation, Miss Copson had shared with me, the fact that her parents live or had lived in West Bromwich. After the visit, I wondered if Miss Copson's parents may know the family or present whereabouts of my former school mate or her family.
  11. On 08/09/2010, after contemplating the matter thoroughly overnight, I still felt uncomfortable and hurt by the disdainful and racist tenor of Miss Copson's declaration during her welfare visit the previous day. After drafting a letter to address a complaint to Miss Copson, but before posting the letter, I telephoned the SPVA Kidderminster-office and asked to speak with Miss Copson.
  12. Miss Copson was out of her office but as arranged, she kindly returned my call very soon afterwards. In our telephone conversation, Miss Copson readily recognised my grounds to feel hurt and to complain over her declaration to me the day before. Miss Copson readily agreed to

    (a) report my complaint to her manager, and

    (b) ask her manager consider my request to meet with the manager and all welfare officers based at the SPVA Kidderminster office,

    in order to discuss Miss Copson's declaration and its implications in terms of the hurt caused, the avoidance of repetition, and related aspects the training of SPVA welfare staff. I also told Miss Copson that I had that day (08/09/2010) written a letter outlining the basis of my complaint but had not despatched the letter in an effort to keep the matter informal to enable effective local resolution, short of resorting to a formal complaint.

  13. By letter of 16/09/2010 Miss Copson wrote to me enclosing a promised 'Attendance Allowance Claim' form and acknowledge her visit (07/09/2010) and our telephone conversation (08/09/2010). A fact of Miss Copson's letter is that she expressed neither regret nor apology for her declaration to me. Miss Copson's letter did however refer to an "enclosed" response-letter from her "Regional Welfare Manager, Mrs Sandra Price" and Mrs Price's letter did contain an apology. The apology penned by Mrs Price was to come to seem hollow in the light of Mrs Price's own words in a telephone conversation with her on 20/09/2010.
  14. By letter of 16/09/2010 Mrs Sandra Price, SPVA Regional Welfare Manager, with regard to Miss Copson's visit (07/09/2010), Mrs Price referred to "… a number of controversial areas of discussion …", and stated that,

    "… Michelle "… comment that you [Mr Taylor] found personally offensive.",

    and that, "She [Michelle] is an experienced officer, who is dedicated to supporting Veterans.".

    The third paragraph of Mrs Price's letter includes,

    "All Welfare staff are fully informed of the need to respect differing views and cultures.".

    Mrs Price added that it was "… not her [Michelle's] intention to cause you [Mr Taylor] any distress.".

    In her letter, Mrs Price, said, "I [Mrs Price] apologise profusely for any misunderstanding that may have occurred…".

    In her letter, Mrs Price, SPVA Regional Manager, did not give an account of the professional acceptability, or otherwise, of the occurrence for which she had apologised "profusely". However, Mrs Price felt well placed to determine "… areas of discussion" during Miss Copson's visit, as being "controversial". Mrs Price also appeared in her letter to have concluded that the issue of concern to her and which forms the basis her apology was the fact, that I had "… found personally offensive …" some unstated "comment". A reasonable interpretation Mrs Price's letter was that she concluded that offence should not have been taken by me, and, that Miss Copson's declaration to me on 07/09/2010, was not racist and offensive nor inappropriate and unprofessional conduct, on the part of an SPVA welfare manager in the performance of her job.

  15. On 20/09/2010, I telephoned Mrs Price to discuss her 16/09/2010 letter. Some significant points in the conversation are listed in Appendix 1 below. I opened the conversation by thanking Mrs Price for her letter and for the apology it expressed. I went on to say that I felt the letter had not dealt adequately with my complaint. In my opinion, unreasonable and disturbing contradictions and managerial complacency, was evident in Mrs Price's response to my complaint. This is even though I had made it clear to her that I would welcome effective local resolution, inclusive of me meeting with her and her welfare staff at the SPVA Kidderminster-offices. The meeting was intended to inform considered "… positive and constructive …" action to avoid any repetition, by her welfare staff, of conduct such as that by Miss Copson which led to this complaint by me.
  16. Several times during our telephone conversation, Mrs Price said her welfare managers were well trained to deal with people of many different views and cultures. Mrs Price said of her welfare managers,

    "They feel that they do everything to respect the views of any client that they see …".

    Mrs Price added that in attending a meeting with me, her welfare managers would feel,

    "… that they were being criticised and that they hadn't adhered to the training that they had and the values that they hold.".

  17. I asked Mrs Price if she meant that if her welfare managers met with me, "... they would be offended.".

    Mrs Price said,

    "No, I am not saying that. I am saying that one person has perhaps said something to you that you felt inappropriate and we've discussed that. We've put that to one side but now you are asking me to tell all my staff they are not getting this right.".

    In response to Mrs Price's assertion, I said,

    "No, I am not asking you to say to your staff any [such] thing. I am putting to you two options. You are in a position ... to choose.".

    I re-stated the position as I saw it and two options for resolution, saying, "If there is cause [for SPVA] to apologise for me being offended, then information that I have and the basis for that offence, coming from me, might be helpful",

    and,

    "If that is not appropriate and if ... not acceptable to the rest of your staff ... then the alternative is to make formal complaint …".

    Mrs Price responded saying,

    "Absolutely Mr Taylor, and if you feel that you have grounds for complaint then obviously [if] that's what you feel [then] that's [what] you must do.".

  18. The telephone conversation with Mrs Price had lasted about twenty-five minutes and I felt Mrs Price had kindly given me enough of her time so I asked, and Mrs Price kindly agreed to consider again the two options I had offered for resolution, and that she inform me of her choice by letter, along with information on SPVA formal complaint procedure, if she chooses that option.
  19. Enclosed with a letter dated 24/09/2010, Mrs Price informed me she had asked SPVA Customer Services to send me a leaflet explaining SPVA's "formal complaints procedure", which I duly received.
  20. On 25/09/2010 I wrote to Mrs Price, SPVA Regional Manager by faxed-letter restating my preferred option for local settlement but noting she had chosen the formal complaint route. With the letter, I included another letter drafted on 08/09/2010 and addressed to Miss Copson, but not sent at that time because I had spoken with Miss Copson by telephone on 08/09/2010 and asked her to refer my complaint to her manager with the aim of local resolution by way of me meeting with Miss Copson's manager all her welfare staff.
  21. I remain hurt by the racist tenor of Miss Copson's response and equally concerned about SPVA performance to-date in this matter. This concern is supported by the fact that in refusing my request to discuss the matter locally with all her welfare staff, SPVA Regional Manager, Mrs Sandra Price seemed greatly concerned that in the circumstance, her welfare managers would feel offended by a meeting with me to come to full and better understanding of my experience with Miss Copson. Yet, at the same time, Mrs Price seemed, to me, less resolutely concerned about the potential and actual offence and hurt caused to SPVA ex-services clients, as me, or serving clients, some of whom presently put their very lives at risk on active service.
  22. To-date Mrs Price, an SPVA Regional Welfare Manager, has not at any time unequivocally condemned Miss Copson's declaration as unacceptable behaviour. Indeed Mrs Price's response is that I have taken offence while Miss Copson meant no offence but was merely "clumsy …" in expressing herself. It is notable that if a similar declaration was expressed by an employee or volunteer worker of The British Legion, it would be deemed

    "… certainly an inappropriate comment",

    while the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Families Association would say,

    "… this inappropriate behaviour would not be tolerated and would be taken seriously by the Association …".

    Early in our telephone conversation on 20/09/2010, when asked by me what Miss Copson had told her of Miss Copson's declaration to me on 07/09/2010, Mrs Price's reply included, ""I don't know her exact words. I gather there was a comment made that you should go back to whatever country she felt that you came from. In that context that would be a very offensive comment and may have been totally inappropriate.".

  23. The racist aspect of Miss Copson's declaration to me, is especially seriously disturbing and damaging at a time when UK citizens of many ethnicities and countries of birth, put their lives at risk in the UK's armed forces; as is current in Afghanistan and Iraqi. As well as facing and suffering devastating injury and death, there is notable public disapproval over their current deployment in Afghanistan and Iraqi. It is unconscionable that any serving (or ex-service) personnel should have to suffer and tolerate racial discrimination or other abuse by a cutting or disdainful declaration of any SPVA welfare officer. In my opinion, the experience I suffered by Miss Copson's declaration, exposes a probability of a worrying gap in the related and preventative training of SPVA welfare managers.
  24. An Internet Google search for 'go back to your own country' will reveal some of the racist, disdainful and hurtful declarations that abound. Some examples of Web-addresses listed in Appendix 2, below. In a Guardian-online article
    at http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2009/jan/19/ministry-defence-race,
    an unidentified 'senior military source' is attributed with saying,

    "The MoD said it … was committed to a working environment which is free from harassment, intimidation and unlawful discrimination.".

  25. It is also a fact that such racist demeaning is a long established issue. To support this point as to continuance of unacceptable racial prejudices and discrimination in UK life, I will share with the investigators of this complaint, three experiences, I think symbolic of the existence such conduct and institutional-level awareness of it. In recalling these reminiscent events, I also remember with great respect, a number of notably people (now deceased) who feature with distinction.
  1. First, in 1962, just prior to leaving secondary school to enlist into the British Army, my then Headmaster, enquired of me whether I had considered the possible racial prejudice I might face in the Army. I acknowledged the possibility, but submitted to him that as well as always being ready to stand-up for myself, in the Army I would have a call upon military discipline. At that time I felt, as now, a sense of humble pride that having appointed me Head Boy, my Headmaster further demonstrated such high regard and respect for me, as to feel able to raise with me, and thereby acknowledge to me, the possibility of and the damaging potential of racial prejudice.
  2. Second, in the Autumn of 1966, I was a young, rugby-playing Lance-Corporal stationed at Blandford Camp, Dorset. After a particular match I was privileged, to travel back to my regimental barracks with a senior officer in his staff-car. To my pleasant surprise the officer said he understood that in general behaviour and attitude, my piers felt that stood as being proudly Jamaican. In further conversion as we sat together on the back seat of the staff-car, the colonel asked me candidly,

    "What would you do if someone called you a black bastard?"

    I replied that as an NCO I would have the culprit 'charged'.

    (b) At the time, as now, I felt it a complement that a senior officer, felt able to discuss such personal matter with me. Replying was straightforward because racially motivated expressions intended to demean was commonplace and I had already considered the matter and formulated various controlled but non-submissive responses. I have generally been well-placed to proffer proud yet self-possessed response to such attempts to demean me. Well-placed in that I was of sturdy physical stature, and able to behave with public demeanour as attracted sufficient respect. At my secondary modern school I showed reasonable academic ability and my general conduct lead me to be appointed prefect, head boy, school cricket captain. My introduction to military was by way of three-years at the Army Apprentices School, Harrogate, Yorkshire. Here too I was to be academically adequate and my general conduct led me to being appointed cricket captain, capture the award of best all-round soldier-tradesman of my intake of 120 apprentices, attain the of Apprentice-tradesman Sergeant, and was selected as recruit-leader (at the end of my first term) to guide and support apprentices in their first term at Harrogate. This point suggest that quality leadership (or the provision of quality services) based upon sound mutual respect, requires broad mutual understanding as derived, in part, from and the asking and the answering of difficult and sensitive questions.

  3. In 1967 as a young Corporal serving with 30th Signal Regiment, I was caused to have a Signalman detained in a regimental guardroom and at a subsequent hearing, he was awarded 14-days detention at Blandford Camp, Dorset by the Commanding Officer. The Signalman had refused to comply with an order from a young British Army, ethnic Asian, Lance-Corporal, whom the Signalman determined as being 'black' and so not fitting order him. I cite this point to highlight the essential need for services people to be clear as to the unacceptability of racism in the forces as it is unlawful, and a step towards indiscipline, as well as insidious among people who are required in service life, to ready to live, fight and die, together and for each other.
  4. It is noteworthy that notwithstanding that, indeed perhaps because, I stood proud of my ancestry and was yet prepared to stand in arms with my adopted country, I was selected by a Commanding Officer for attendance at a Regular Commission Board; albeit unsuccessfully for other reasons.
  1. In relation to the instant declaration to me by Miss Copson, an SPVA Welfare Manager, I now invite Miss Copson and the SPVA to either unreservedly condemn and withdraw the declaration she made to me on 07/09/2010, or as an alternative, indicate in writing, what comparable declaration might be made during a welfare visit, to a British serving or ex-service person who lives and has lived in England decades but had been born in Scotland or in Wales, or born in Grenada, West Indies or on the Greek Island of Corfu. Also, what would such declaration be, regardless of the individual's nationality, if the serving or ex-service person is (ethnically) African, Asian, European?
  2. This is I believe a serious complaint of a serious matter of public interest that warrants genuine consideration, resolution and determined implementation from Whitehall UK to Helmand, Afghanistan.

Hubert Taylor
12 October 2010



Footnote by Hubert Taylor

The Ministry denied discrimination and sought to justify the acts from which the complaint arose so in March 2011 I lodged a Small at Birmingham County Court in England. Court proceedings commenced but the UK Ministry of Defence settled on financial compensation, before trial.

In the the wider public interest I had wished the facts of alleged race discrimination by UK's Ministry of Defence, to have been heard in open court, but a disappointing technical-flaw in my claim papers led me to accept negiotiated money settlement instead.




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