Special report: The masonic presence within Northamptonshire’s public life
Following a new recommendation to the government we look at the current rules about declaring Freemason membership for our local politicians and police
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By Sarah Ward and Natalie Bloomer
Earlier this month the independent inquiry into the 1987 unsolved murder of private detective Daniel Morgan made the recommendation to government that police officers who are Freemasons should make their membership known to their chief constable.
A number of the suspects and police officers involved in the botched investigations into Daniel Morgan's death were Freemasons and while the enquiry found no evidence that ‘Masonic channels were corruptly used in connection with either the commission of the murder or to subvert the police investigations’ it has put the spotlight back on the male-dominated secret organisation.
The recommendation comes after Lichfield District Council’s legal officer Christie Tims instructed all councillors last September to declare their membership of any Freemason’s lodge to ‘make sure conflicts of interest do not arise and that council business is conducted in an open and transparent way.’
In light of the issue of declaration being back in public focus once again we have taken a look at the situation in Northamptonshire.
Currently Northamptonshire police officers and civilian staff do not have to declare their membership of the Freemasons.
The Morgan inquiry has suggested this should change with its recommendation:
“All police officers and police staff should be obliged to register in confidence with the chief officer of their police force, at either their point of recruitment to the police force or at any point subsequent to their recruitment, their membership of any organisation, including the Freemasons, which might call their impartiality into question or give rise to the perception of a conflict of loyalties.
The panel, which was led by former police ombudsman Baroness Nuala O’Loan, said it had considered the legal implications of the declaration requirement and whether it would conflict with the person’s right to privacy and said it was not persuaded that it would. It said it had taken into account both domestic law and guidance from the European Court of Human Rights (EHCR).
NN Journal asked Northants Police Chief Constable Nick Adderley if his force would now be changing its stance on declarations and also whether he himself was a Freemason.
“I am aware of the recommendations contained within the Daniel Morgan Review, which will now be subject to further scrutiny and evaluation.
“Many of the recommendations will require legal considerations and legislative changes before any final decisions are made, most notably the infringement on Article 8 of ECHR and the relevant sections of the Data Protection Act, when joining the police service, or if currently serving.
“As Chief Constable of Northamptonshire Police, I await further guidance and direction regarding the inevitable debates and challenges which will follow and I do not intend to change the current policy of declaration with regards to Freemason membership.
“In response to your direct question as to whether or not I am a member of the Freemasons, I can confirm that I am not”.
In 2017 the then leader of the Police Federation Steve White said that reform in policing is being blocked by members of Freemasons. He told the Guardian:
“There have been occasions when colleagues of mine have suspected that Freemasons have been an obstacle to reform.”
This prompted the Freemasons to write to several newspapers saying:
“The idea that reform within the Police Federation or anywhere else is being actively thwarted by an organised body of Freemasons is laughable and suggests an unbelievable element of will and influence from an organisation which is non-political, non-religious, values integrity and upholds the law.”
"In my experience of local government, the Masons are ever-present, and, as a senior officer, you forget it at your peril (Tory led or not).
“Whenever something unexplained happened - around planning, building control, or finances - my first thought was always the Masons. After all, building is the origin of the organisation."
These are the strong words of one former very senior local government officer who worked in Northamptonshire’s halls of power for many years.
Beyond speculation there has never been any evidence of Freemasons covertly masterminding certain deals, but while the secretive nature of the male dominated organisation remains, there will always be suspicions about what influence it has over local decision making.
There are currently no legal requirements on elected members of the county’s two unitary councillors to publicly disclose whether they belong to a lodge. Over the years the requirement to declare membership has waxed and waned.
Prior to Northamptonshire’s new councils being set up this April, only Daventry district, Kettering borough and Corby borough councils required their councillors to declare the membership and the Daventry and Kettering authorities also expected their officers and staff to make any membership known. (In 2007 a Corby councillor who did not declare his masonic declaration was reprimanded by the council’s standards committee).
But under the two new authorities there is no requirement to make membership public and is only done so if the councillor is minded to.
We looked at the declared interests of the 117 newly elected male councillors across the new West and North unitary councils.
Six had declared their membership of the Freemasons although NN Journal is aware of other councillors who have not declared. The most high profile member is leader of West Northamptonshire Council Jonathan Nunn, who states on his register of interests that he is an honorary member.
He told NN Journal he has not been an active member for the last ten years and had been made an honorary Freemason because ‘I’d been around a while’.
He said: “I’m not sure if it’s technically wrong not to declare it, but to me it seems the right thing to do, so with absolutely nothing to be ashamed of or secret about, I’d simply encourage others to do the same.”
Former leader of South Northants Council Ian McCord (who ran against Cllr Nunn for the West unitary leadership) is also a Freemason and declares his membership of the Silverstone lodge.
Cllr David Sims, who represents Corby Rural has been a Freemason for many years and put it on his register of interests.
“I declare it because I want to be transparent and open. I think it is the right thing to do. I’m not ashamed of it. We raise a lot of money for charity.”
He said his membership had never conflicted with his job as a councillor and his first role was to serve the people who elected him.
Longstanding Rushden Cllr Michael Tye did not declare his membership, but said this was because he was considering leaving.
He said he had never seen anything within the organisation which had been done underhand.
The other councillors who declared their membership were: Cllr David Smith, Cllr Suresh Patel and Cllr Larry Henson.
Cabinet member for finance in the West Cllr Malcolm Longley did not declare a membership but he is listed as a director of the Lutterworth Masonic Lodge. NN Journal contacted him for a comment but he has not responded. Cllr Dermot Bainbridge, another West Northamptonshire has not declared membership. In 2013 he set up the Silverstone lodge. It is unclear whether he is still a mason.
Leader of the Labour opposition on West Northamptonshire Council Gareth Eales thinks any Freemasons should have to make it public on their register of interests.
“I think it should be absolutely declared. We have to declare our trade union membership so why should being in the masons be any different?”
A spokesman for North Northamptonshire Council said:
“There are mandatory requirements placed on elected members which are set out in legislation.
“Beyond the statutory obligations, there are currently no additional requirements to disclose membership of specific organisations such as the Freemasons.
“There are however provisions within the Code of Conduct which require Members to declare interests and take appropriate action where membership of a particular group should or might affect a decision that they will be involved in.”
A West Northamptonshire spokesman said:
“There is no specific requirement to declare membership of the Freemasons, but members would be required to do so should a conflict of interest arise (just like any conflict of interest), in accordance with the council’s Code of Conduct.”
What are the Freemasons?
The history of the Freemasons dates back to the middle ages and stems from the traditions of medieval stone masons.
There are levels (or grades) which members have to work through, all starting at the lowest first grade when joining. As they move through the ranks the traditional white apron they wear is embellished with various symbols and emblems.
A ‘secret handshake’ is said to be used to identify fellow Masons and a different one is used depending on the level of the member. Their rituals are shrouded in mystery but have been described as a type of ‘morality play’. The initiation (or First Degree) is said to involve new members entering the lodge blindfolded with their trouser leg rolled up and baring their right arm and left breast. They are also said to wear a noose around their neck.
Those wanting to become a Mason must “make solemn promises concerning their behaviour both in the Lodge and in society”. They must also promise to keep confidential the way they recognise each other when visiting another Lodge. They can be of any faith but must believe in a “supreme being”.
The organisation has more than six million members worldwide with 250,000 of those in the UK. There are 7,000 Lodges (where members meet) around the UK with 15 across Northamptonshire. The Lodges are then organised into provincial Grand Lodges based loosely on historic county boundaries. There are also two separate women-only Grand Lodges with around 5,000 members.
The Freemasons are often described as ‘not a secret society but a society with secrets’. For many years they have faced rumours and accusations about the influence members have in public life, particularly in policing and politics. This came to a head in the late 1990s when a House of Commons select committee looked into the role of Freemasonry in public life. The final report from the committee noted that “it was only possible for this Committee to obtain the co-operation of Grand Lodge by compulsion”.
It found that while many accusations of improper masonic influence are impossible to prove or when investigated are unfounded, there were some cases cited in the report where the accusations were justified. The committee went on to recommend that public servants who are members of a secret society such as the Freemasons should disclose their membership.
One of the four core principles of the Freemasons is to be charitable and in 2019 they contributed £42m to various good causes. On a local level, recent charities or organisations they have supported include Northamptonshire Young Carers Service, Northampton Hope Centre, Independent Domestic Violence Advisor (IDVA) Service and Kettering General Hospital. Max Bayes is Provincial Grand Master for the area.
What the Freemasons have to say
NN Journal asked the Northamptonshire and Huntingdon masonic province for a response.
“It is unlawful for a council to require its councillors to declare their membership of Freemasonry on the Register of Interests. Such a blanket requirement would breach the Human Rights Act and the Data Protection Act. 80 per cent of Freemasons happily disclose their membership. The 20 per cent who prefer to keep it private often do so for fear of discrimination.
“In addition, we would like to state that the organisation is unsurprised that the independent report published examining the unsolved killing of Daniel Morgan, like so many before it, found no evidence that Freemasonry was a factor in any wrongdoing.
“We are, however, disappointed that the panel has – despite acknowledging there was no evidence that Freemasonry was a factor in any wrongdoing – decided to recommend, contrary to the Human Rights Act 1998 and Data Protection Act 2018, that our members identify themselves on a mandatory register.
“It is precisely because of discriminatory acts like this that, as stated above, 20 per cent of our members choose to keep their membership private. The United Grand Lodge of England will be delighted when all its members feel secure enough to proudly disclose their membership of the organisation.”
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