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Racism case won by Rastafarian guardsman

A claim of race discrimination and harassment against the Ministry of Defence has been won by a guardsman in the British Army. 

Sixteen years ago Mr Dwight Pile-Grey became one of the first Rastafarian men to achieve guardsman status. He was the first Rastafarian soldier who was permitted to wear his hair in locs.  

Joining the Army at the age of 37, Mr Pile-Grey was a musician with the Royal Corps of Army Music, later taking a role in the Band of Grenadier Guards.

While he was working with the Ministry of Defence Mr Pile-Gray took part in many state occasions, always tying up his hair so that it would fit into his bearskin.

Commenting on when he joined the Army, he stated that he had been under no illusions about what he might enquire about. He was, however, full of optimism.

Mr Pile-Gray said that he was often questioned by other guards about his appearance but he put the questions down to ignorance. Questions like ‘Don’t you smoke drugs? Are you a pacifist? Why are you allowed to wear your hair that way?’ were often asked of him.

He admitted that there were worse situations than those questions, such as the use of offensive words, including the ‘N’ word in his presence, along with racist and derogatory remarks.

Such situations did not stop him from enjoying his job and also rising up the ranks to a lance sergeant.

It was in July 2021, at Wellington Barracks, in central London, when he had a row with two white soldiers at the guardroom to his base.

Talking to the BBC in an interview Mr Pile-Grey stated that he believed his career had ended after a row with a white guard who commented that he did not believe the claimant was a soldier. The guard went on to accuse Mr Pile-Grey of ‘playing the race card.’

The incident took place in July 2021 when the claimant left his barracks in central London after attending a medical appointment. He left his ID card behind and went back to retrieve it wearing civilian clothing, with his locs on display.

On duty was a lance corporal who questioned whether he was in fact a soldier. He commented to the guard room saying that ‘This gentleman thinks he has left his ID inside.’ It was only after someone else recognised him, that Mr Pile-Grey was let back in to collect his ID.

Once inside he changed back into his uniform and returned in a bid to show that he was in fact a soldier. The conversation between the claimant and the lance corporal became heated, with a sergeant saying to him that if he was going to ‘make it a race thing, he was not interested.’

"I was absolutely treated differently because of my appearance," he stated. "I've been doing this a long time and I understand when there is a racial element to an interaction."

Mr Pile-Grey reported the incident to a different office where he was asked if he wanted to make a formal complaint. He suggested mediation instead so he could explain to those involved exactly why he had felt their behaviour was wrong. Ultimately, however, he was told he would be facing disciplinary action instead. He was later given a formal charge of insubordination.

"They had no understanding or concept that what they were actually saying was racist," he says.

Mr Pile-Gray said that this treatment was ‘the straw that broke the camel’s back’ and he did not feel he could continue to work in an organisation that disregarded his welfare and feelings, along with actively making him out to be a bad person.

After being told he would be facing disciplinary action he made a service complaint which was rejected. He then took his case to an employment tribunal.

The case was heard in  October and the London Central Employment Tribunal ruled that the claims for racial harassment, victimisation, and direct race discrimination were successful.

During the interview with the BBC Mr Pile-Grey commented that senior black officers were seldom the subject of racism because it did not exist at top levels because black officers were automatically addressed as ‘Sir.’ However, as black privates, this did not apply, and racism was very common.

Ms Emma Norton, from the Centre for Military Justice acted as Mr Pile-Grey’s legal support. She told the BBC that not only had the chain of command failed to act when they learned of his concerns about racial bias, but they went on to victimise and gas-light him for complaining about it.

Ms Norton stated that the Army's response had fallen ‘woefully short and that they had lost an excellent soldier in the process.’

The MOD does not comment on any individual cases. They did  however, make a statement saying that they did not tolerate bullying, abuse and discrimination of any kind. 

They actively encouraged staff to report unacceptable behaviour. Furthermore, they have introduced measures which would improve working conditions for everyone in the armed forces.

 

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