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Police Unlawfully Rejected ‘Exceptional’ Recruit for Being Straight White Male, Tribunal Finds

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JACK MONTGOMERY

Cheshire Police abused “positive action” legislation to unlawfully discriminate against an “exceptional” candidate for being a straight white male, an employment tribunal has ruled.

Matthew Furlong, 25, applied to Cheshire Police in order to follow in the footsteps of his father, who is a serving detective inspector on the force — but was ultimately turned down for a role, despite being told “it was refreshing to meet someone as well-prepared as yourself” and that he “could not have done any more” after passing the interview stage of the recruitment process, ITV news reports.

Under the Equality Act of 2010, British employers technically cannot discriminate against people on the basis of certain “protected characteristics” including race, sex, and sexuality, but they can choose candidates from certain groups over others — typically white people, and in particular white men — if they are of “equal merit”.

Employers can also outright discriminate against people from “under-represented” groups for training programmes, workshops, and so-called internships — many of which pay more than a typical working-class job — aimed at increasing employment prospects.

Mr Furlong’s father lodged a complaint with Cheshire Police, believing the force’s claim that it had received applications from 127 other candidates who were just as qualified as his son — who studied particle physics and cosmology at Lancaster University — was untrue.

An employment tribunal agreed that this was a “fallacy” after finding that the force had simply assigned potential candidates a simple “pass” or “fail” in the recruitment process, rather than any sort of score, and then treated all “passes” as equal in order to take advantage of the positive action provisions.

“Matthew was denied his dream job simply because he was a white, heterosexual male,” explained lawyer Jennifer Ainscough.

“This is the first reported case of its kind in the UK where positive action has been used in a discriminatory way. Matthew’s courage in speaking out will hopefully ensure it is the last.

“Had he not been such an exceptional candidate he may not even have suspected anything was wrong and this unlawful and unacceptable selection process may have been allowed to continue,” she added — perhaps suggesting that many other candidates may have been unfairly rejected in this way, either without realising it or without being able to prove it.

The ruling comes as Chief Constable Sara Thornton, who leads the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC), is lobbying for so-called “positive discrimination” to be legalised, making it perfectly acceptable for police forces and other employers to reject white candidates like Matthew Furlong in order to boost diversity.

“It is a political judgment, isn’t it? How important is this? If it’s important [to increase diversity], then I think you need to look at [postive discrimination],” she insisted.

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