The Right Honourable Baroness Knight of Collingtree DBE

In March 1997, The House of Commons Home Affairs Committee reported on the results of an investigation into Freemasonry in the Police and the Judiciary. I have been invited by your magazine to comment on the report. I must begin with an admission that I am a bad choice as an author of this article. That is because I am far from unbiased about the whole House of Commons Home Affairs Committee investigation into Freemasonry. I am a former member of this committee and was a member until I (voluntarily!) left the Commons at the last General Election. I recall that one particular member of the committee had for years been exhorting us to investigate the subject of Freemasonry. I always fought and voted against any such investigation. This was not because I have any connections with Freemasonry. In fact, no member of my family has ever belonged to the organisation and none of my friends, that I know of, are members and if they were they certainly never discussed the subject with me. My opposition was based on a belief that, in a free country, its people have a perfect right to join any society they wish, provided of course that they always act within the law of the land. In such circumstances, I believe that they should be quite free to associate with whomsoever they choose, adopt whatever ceremonies they desire and make whatever rules for themselves that they may deem appropriate.

Notwithstanding these views, one member of the committee, Chris Mullin, was convinced that the Freemasons were a sinister organisation. Mr. Mullin was subsequently made chairman of the committee by the present Government. He sustained a belief that Freemasons exerted vile and unfair influences, swear hair-raising oaths, and promote or defend other Freemasons unjustly. They were supposedly engaged in conspiracy to hide any wrongdoing by Freemasons, even to the extent of Judges exonerating guilty criminals, who were alleged, by Mr. Mullin, to make secret Signs from the dock. He also believed that policemen who were Freemasons failed to take appropriate action against their Brother Masons who had committed crimes.

Mr. Mullins persistent demands for an enquiry finally won through and it was decided to undertake such an investigation as he wanted in 1996-1997. We took evidence from a wide range of people, from the Lord Chancellor to the Magistrates Association, the Association of Chief Police Officers, individual members of the Judiciary, the Bar Council, the Crown Prosecution Service and from leading Freemasons. The first to give evidence was a Mr. Martin Short, the author of what was alleged to be the standard work on Freemasons. This is a claim I found to be spurious as Mr. Short is violently, even paranoically, anti-Freemasons. While I had begun the work with no knowledge at all of Freemasonry I was, as I have outlined above, dubious about the claims made against Freemasonry. This was more from a gut feeling or instinct than from anything else. The fact that Mr. Short was our first witness seemed to confirm that my doubts were well founded. There are no circumstances in which he could be described as an unbiased witness. I tried to serve the committee with an open mind. If Freemasons were abusing our system and that could be established by witnesses beyond peradventure, I should have been as condemnatory as anyone.

In the event, we received twenty-six printed memoranda and one hundred and fifty three which were not printed, these being mainly letters from private individuals. As the committee proceedings ground on I became more, not less, convinced that we were on a wild goose chase. The allegations against the Freemasons appeared to be based on perception, not fact.

To my mind, the finest witness of the whole enquiry was the Rt. Hon. Sir Ian Percival Q.C. As a Freemason (indeed he is a Royal Arch Mason) he clearly knew abundantly more about the organisation than did any other witness that we heard in the course of our enquiry. He was brilliant in his defence of Freemasonry and his factual dismissal of the charges made against them. He pinpointed the important difference between secrecy and privacy and demolished the case made by those who would sneer at the rituals. He stressed the vital need for principles in all our lives and pointed out that when allegations are made there should be the opportunity for the accused to reply. That was the best reason for our enquiry that I had heard. He clearly indicated that it was perception not evidence that had led to the accusations being made against Freemasons.

Many other organisations gave evidence. The Police Superintendents' Association told us that they had no evidence that Freemasonry caused any problem in the Police Force. They were confident that there would be no conflict of obligations for a 'Masonic' Police Officer and had received no evidence that Freemasonry improperly influences promotions within the Force. The Police federation also stated that they had no evidence that Freemasonry was an undesirable activity or that it led to any conflict of obligations for a Masonic Police officer.

We did, however, receive some conflicting evidence from Police officers. Ten of them claimed either that they suspected a malign Masonic influence or made specific allegations of abuse. These allegations included suppressions of serious criminal and disciplinary matters, promotion preferment, cheating in promotion examinations and the falsifying of blood test results of Freemasons charged with drunk driving offences. These ten were not Freemasons. In contrast, six Police Officers who were Freemasons wrote to the committee confirming that, during their service in the Force, their professional conduct had never been affected by their membership of Freemasonry. Again, this emphasises the difference between perception and evidence, as the ten who made claims of abuse did not actually provide evidence to support the validity of their claims.

The Law Society could recall no occasions of Masonic influence either on the Judiciary or on a Solicitor. They did urge, however, greater openness with regard to the Criminal Justice System and stated that the system for appointing Judges should be more open.

The Bar Council had no evidence of any substantial problem with respect to Freemasonry and the administration of justice. They did not favour a register of Freemasons in the Judiciary but regarded it as a matter for each individual Judge to decide whether his membership of the Freemasons was relevant to a particular case.

The Crown Prosecution Service stated that Prosecutors and other Staff were warned that conflicts of interest might arise from dealings with, or decisions in respect of, individuals who share their private interests, for example Freemasons. They have, however, no record of problems arising from Prosecutors who may be Freemasons.

The Association of Women Barristers argued that Judges should resign from Freemasonry upon appointment or, should at least, disclose the fact of their membership. The Association was concerned (although without any evidence) that Freemasonry had a discriminatory effect.

As we reached our conclusions, it was obvious that suspicion, without any evidence, had led to belief in some peoples minds that Freemasons should declare themselves. The committee was unable to agree on a final conclusion. Two members of the committee and myself supported the following wording:

It is obvious that there is a great deal of unjustified paranoia about Freemasonry and we have no wish to add to it. We believe that there would be practical difficulties in requiring a register of Freemasons in all areas of the Criminal Justice System, but it would certainly be possible to establish one. We also note that the Prime Minister has said he was in favour of a requirement for Public Officials to declare whether they are Freemasons or not, and that the Shadow Home Secretary believes that membership of the Freemasons should be a declarable and registerable interest. We would not go that far. We are reluctant to recommend a compulsory form of registration of Freemasons because we acknowledge that to do so implies a basis for suspicion and would be an unnecessary interference in a person's right to privacy which, like the secrecy of the vote, we struggle to preserve in so many areas of public life. We conclude that all reasonable suspicions relating to Masonic influence in the Criminal Justice System and other areas would be defused if the Freemasons were more open about their membership and there was less secrecy, and more light thrown on to their activities. We cannot help concluding that it would be in the best interests of Freemasonry in the modern world to reduce the secrecy and that the people best placed to take the necessary steps are the Freemasons themselves.

The majority of the committee would not support that wording voting instead for the following:

We recommend that Police Officers, Magistrates, Judges and Crown Prosecutors should be required to register membership of any secret society and that the record should be available publicly. However, it is our firm belief that the better solution lies in the hands of Freemasonry itself by openness and disclosure; all suspicion would be removed, and we would welcome the taking of such steps by the United Grand Lodge

All in all a minority of us were in favour of putting the facts to the Freemasons that a problem did exist and inviting them to deal with it themselves, while the majority wanted a requirement to register membership.

Since the committee concluded its work before the General Election of May last year the caravan has moved on. Mr. Chris Mullin, now chairman of the committee has forced a disclosure of the names of Freemasons in the West Midlands Police Force. This has had an interesting reaction in the Birmingham area which is, of course, served by that force. Memories of that terrible night of the Birmingham pub bombings in which some twenty-two innocent people were killed and about seventy injured, some very seriously indeed, are still vivid in the minds of the Birmingham people. These memories are not diminished by the twenty-four years that have now elapsed since that outrage. It was, of course, Mr. Chris Mullin who campaigned and eventually obtained freedom for the men imprisoned for the crime of those bombings. Incidentally the appeal verdicts were not that they were not guilty of the crime, it was merely that the verdicts were unsafe. They were given their freedom due to Mr. Mullin who has stated that he knows the names of the real bombers but has always steadfastly refused to divulge that information.

It is indeed an odd twist of fate that Mr. Mullin, who claims to know the names of guilty murderers and has never disclosed those names, should be instrumental in bringing the full weight and power of Parliament to demand the names of perfectly innocent policemen for the crime of being a Freemason. It is hardly surprising that there is considerable anger in the Birmingham area about this matter.

Lady Knight regrets being unable to enter into any correspondence on the subject of this article. We are grateful to her for her informative insight into the matter.

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Preferred citation: The Ashlar No 5, September 1998, pp 23-26 Freemasonry, the Police and the Judiciary

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