HAMPSHIRE Police has topped an equality index as the joint best force in the UK to work for gay employees.

The force has also come in the top three overall in the Stonewall Workplace Equality Index 2008,' which showcases Britain's top 100 private and public sector employers of lesbian, gay and bisexual workers and each organisation's commitment to eliminating discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation.

The force has been recognised primarily for the work of its Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Resource Group which was set up six years ago to support LGBT officers and staff. It works alongside the Personnel Department to help the constabulary adapt to new laws regarding sexual orientation in the workplace.

Chief Constable Paul Kernaghan, who is the force's Diversity Champion, said: "As a police force we aim to fully represent the diverse communities we serve. As an employer we want to be able to attract the best candidates from all sectors of society. I am quite clear therefore that a force which does not include talented individuals, selected on merit, cannot be an effective force or a desirable employer. The Hampshire LGBT Resource Group has been crucial in assisting us to eliminate prejudice based on sexual orientation."

It is the third year Hampshire Constabulary has submitted an entry to the Stonewall Index and its standing has improved from 14th in 2006 to 11th last year.

One person who has received help from the resource group is Pc Matt Parker who works in the Priority Crime Team in Lyndhurst, who was prompted to join the force after meeting the Lesbian and Gay Liaison officers in Southampton's gay community.

He said: "I was impressed to see them out and about talking to people and engaging them. I realised it was something I'd quite like to do. When I joined the police I was contacted by other officers in the LGBT Resource Group who offered me support.

"I've always been open about my sexuality and from day one with the police I've felt comfortable being out to my colleagues. Before, I worked in the military and for corporate companies, but Hampshire Constabulary has been the most gay-friendly environment.

"In a way, I had to come out twice; once as a gay man in the police force and once as a police officer in the gay community. But when people in the clubs meet a gay officer they often feel more comfortable talking to the police and reporting crime in general. In Hampshire it's not about forcing people to be gay-friendly; they genuinely are."

Stonewall is a charity that campaigns on lesbian, gay and bisexual issues. For more information visit www.stonewall.org.uk.