Complaints about homophobia within the police force have risen by almost a quarter in the past year according to the Gay Police Association.

The association received 350 calls in 2007, 90 more than in 2006. However, it is estimated that 7,000 homophobic incidents each year are not reported.

Chairman of the Gay Police Association Paul Cahill said: “We’ve had some officers refusing to work with gay officers but also slightly more sinister expressions of homophobia.

“We had situations where colleagues would come in to work and on parade would openly state their religious opposition to homosexuality and would even quote sections of the Bible, completely out of context with being at work and on parade.

“Many gay officers quite rightly felt that was an attempt to intimidate or harass them.

“But the officers behaving in that way would say ‘we were asserting our right to freedom of religious expression’ – albeit that it was questionable in the context in which it was raised, the timing and the manner in which it was raised.”

Mike Cunningham of the Association of Chief Police Officers, Mike Cunningham told the BBC that he was aware of the concerns of gay police officers: “We are actively encouraging people to report racism, homophobia, anything to do with any particular minority with vulnerability.

“One of the problems with that is that sometimes the number of complaints actually goes up. That’s not a cause for comfort and I’m not sitting here in anyway complacent.

“Any form of homophobia has no place in the police. People with all religious beliefs also have a right to hold a religious belief. Where that crosses the line is when it infringes on the rights of other individuals with whom they are working.

“That sometimes is a complicated matter for managers to deal with and I’m seeking to provide guidance to help them work through that.”