The Ministry of Defence will pay nearly £4 million in compensation to gay men and lesbians dismissed because of their sexual orientation.

In 1999 four staff won a case at the European Court of Human Rights, arguing that the ban on gay and lesbian people serving in the Armed Forces was a violation of right to respect for a private life under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The case was backed by gay equality organisation Stonewall.

This week it emerged that 58 former staff have been paid £3.7m in compensation.

Before the government removed the ban on LGB personnel, military police would mount undercover investigations and in some cases entrapment operations to rid the Armed Forces of homosexuals.

Today the British Army, Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force are members of the Stonewall Diversity Champions Scheme.

The scheme promotes best practice and gives organisations guidance and advice on how to create equality in the workplace.

“Sexual orientation is a private life matter,” an MoD spokesperson told PinkNews.co.uk.

“It is the right of each and every member of the Armed Forces to work in an environment which is free from harassment, intimidation and bullying and have equal opportunities for employment, training and advancement based solely on their merits and abilities.

“Over the past few years the MoD has made strenuous efforts to reach amicable settlements in relation to those legal claims which remained outstanding and we are pleased that compensation has now been awarded in all these cases.”

In the past two years eight staff have been paid £300,000 compensation. The average payout from all cases was £61,500.

In 58 of the cases in which applications had been made to the European court, the MoD made settlement offers acknowledging a breach of Articles 8 and 13 of the Convention.

Article 13 provides for the right for an effective remedy before national authorities for violations of rights under the Convention.

The inability to obtain a remedy before a national court for an infringement of a Convention right is thus a free-standing and separately actionable infringement of the Convention.

Peter Tatchell of gay rights group OutRage! told PinkNews.co.uk:

“These payouts are small compensation to people who were often subjected to degrading interrogation and detention, and who lost their job and service accommodation. They ended up unemployed and homeless.

“For many gay and lesbian service personnel, dismissal from the military destroyed their distinguished careers and caused them immense financial and emotional suffering.”

In a Radio 4 documentary broadcast last year, the officer responsible for equality training issued an apology to the thousands of gay men and lesbians who were discharged from the British Armed Forces because of their sexuality.

Wing Commander Phil Sagar, who runs the Armed Forces joint equality and diversity training centre, said:

“Of course we’re sorry for anyone who’s suffered personal trauma. It went from ‘You’re fired’ to ‘You’re a valued member of the team.’

“I don’t think I’d sit here and say everything’s all right because there’s obviously still work to do.

“I’ve no doubt there are people who think very carefully about what they say when asked the question ‘What did you do at the weekend?”‘

The MoD said: “The Armed Forces have been working closely with Stonewall to ensure we identify and provide the support our gay, lesbian and bisexual service personnel need.”

The lifting of the ban on homosexual people serving in the Armed Forces was announced in January 2000, following the European Court of Human Rights’ judgement against the UK at Strasbourg in September 1999.

The change in policy included the introduction of the Armed Forces’ Code of Social Conduct, setting out revised guidelines on personal relationships involving all Service personnel and making it clear that sexual orientation is a private life matter.

American activists campaigning to remove a ban on openly gay, lesbian and bisexual personnel in the US Armed Forces often point to the positive experience the British Army, Royal Navy and Royal Air Force have had.