James Heappey responds to Ministry of Defence email leaks
The officer – who was also the RAF’s head of recruitment – subsequently resigned from her post, with Armed Forces Minister James Heappey subsequently forced to answer awkward questions about the role of Air Chief Marshal Sir Mike Wigston. The email, sent on August 4 and seen by Sky News, said the officer – who has not been named – was unwilling to allocate slots of RAF training courses based on gender or ethnicity.
She explained: “This is unlawful. I am not prepared to delegate or abdicate the responsibility of actioning that order to my staff.”
Her resignation is understood to have been prompted by her refusal to implement what was known as a “course loading” order.
She then outlined the reasons for her decision in a separate resignation letter.
Air Chief Marshal Sir Mike Wigston is facing questions about diversity targets in the RAF
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Speaking on Friday, Mr Heappey vowed to investigate claims of positive discrimination, referring to the illegal promotion of a candidate based on a specific, protected characteristic.
He was speaking three days after news of the officer’s resignation surfaced, with reports suggesting it had been triggered by what was described as an “effective pause” on offering jobs to white men in order to hit “impossible” diversity targets.
Mr Heappey rejected such a characterisation, but said Sir Mike had asked his team to “pause” offering training slots to all candidates while he and his senior leaders considered ways to improve diversity on various training courses.
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James Heappey is the Armed Forces Minister
Mr Heappey, who insisted he retained confidence in Sir Mike, said: “If there are avenues for the chief of the air staff to look at positive action, then that’s fine and he’s created himself room to do that. But we must be absolutely clear that no policy is implemented.”
Asked whether Sir Mike had built a culture based around the importance of diversity and inclusion, Mr Heappey said: “If that is a culture that exists, I’m sure that we will be encouraging the Chief of the Air Staff to get after it, to make very clear within the RAF what the policy is.
The pause is believed to have started in late June – but the new order was received on August 2.
The email sent two days later referenced a “course loading direction/order” from Air Vice Marshal Maria Byford, the chief of staff personnel, Sir Mike’s top personnel officer.
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The group captain said her team had been told “to course load any remaining women and EM [ethnic minorities] in those priority professions that are ready, even if the EA [enlisted aviator] candidates are not ‘first past the post'”.
The term ‘first past the post’ refers to the allocation of slots on training courses to the candidates who pass the various stages of selection, including aptitude and medical and fitness tests.
The group captain wrote: ”This direction is to make offers of employment to additional women and EM [ethnic minority] candidates solely on the basis of their protected characteristics and in preference to non-EM men who have successfully passed all selection criteria ahead of them.
“I strongly agree that it is incredibly important to do all within our collective power to support the RAF’s commitment to increasing diversity.
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“This should however be achieved through lawful and proportionate means.”
An RAF spokesman said the concerns raised had since been “addressed” by her chain of command.
He added: “The RAF recruits people from the widest possible pool of talent and is becoming a more diverse organisation, but we will not do so at the expense of our high standards, operational effectiveness, or adherence to legal obligations.
“We frequently review our recruitment processes, seeking legal advice to ensure that we are mindful of our legal obligations.
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“Any allegations that we have failed to do so are investigated without delay. The concern raised in this instance was addressed by the chain of command at the time and we continue our work to ensure recruitment processes remain compliant with all policy and legal requirements.”
An RAF spokesman said the concerns raised had since been “addressed” by her chain of command.He added: “The RAF recruits people from the widest possible pool of talent and is becoming a more diverse organisation, but we will not do so at the expense of our high standards, operational effectiveness, or adherence to legal obligations.
“We frequently review our recruitment processes, seeking legal advice to ensure that we are mindful of our legal obligations.”Any allegations that we have failed to do so are investigated without delay.
The concern raised in this instance was addressed by the chain of command at the time and we continue our work to ensure recruitment processes remain compliant with all policy and legal requirements.”