A police force has been found guilty of discrimination after it refused to give a potential recruit a job because he was a white heterosexual man.

Cheshire Police are believed to be the first organisation in the UK to be found guilty of using positive action to discriminate by deciding to shun 25-year-old Matthew Furlong in 2017.

The force rejected him while in the midst of a diversity drive after a report found in 2015 it was one of only four constabularies to have no black officers.

Furlong, whose father is a serving detective inspector at Cheshire Police, claimed he was told after the interview stage "it was refreshing to meet someone as well prepared as yourself" and that he "could not have done any more".

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The graduate in particle physics and cosmology was later told he had lost out to other candidates, leading his father to lodge a complaint.

In a landmark case, Cheshire Police were found to have used positive action to discriminate against Furlong on the grounds of sexual orientation, race and gender.

An employment tribunal ruled that while positive action can be used to boost diversity, it should only be applied to distinguish between candidates who were all equally well qualified for a role.

Jennifer Ainscough, an employment lawyer at Slater and Gordon who represented Furlong, said: "Matthew was denied his dream job simply because he was a white, heterosexual male.

"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.

"Positive action is an important tool to support a diverse workforce that reflects the community in which we live.

"However it must be applied lawfully to ensure the highest calibre of candidates are recruited regardless of race, gender or sexual orientation and to ensure standards in police forces are maintained to properly protect our society."

The tribunal in Liverpool heard four days of evidence before reaching its conclusion, published earlier this month, that Furlong had been a victim of direct discrimination on the grounds of his sexual orientation, race and sex.

The force's claim it had seen 127 candidates who were equally suitable for the role of police constable was a "fallacy", the tribunal concluded.

It said that Cheshire Police's decision to impose such an artificially low threshold - assigning candidates a pass or fail rather than any kind of score - was not a proportionate response to addressing the force's lack of diversity.

Cheshire Police was among a number of forces criticised in 2015 for having no black officers, but has since taken steps to improve opportunities for those with protected characteristics relating to BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) gender, sexual orientation and disability.

Its efforts have resulted in a number of national awards and recognition including being chosen to host the National Black Police Associations Conference in 2017.

The case has been adjourned until later this year for a remedy hearing to determine the amount of compensation to be awarded.

A spokesman for Cheshire Police said: "We have been notified of the outcome of the tribunal and will review the findings over the coming days."