Bunhill: Apron strings draw tighter

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The Independent Online
THE ROW over Freemasons at the John Lewis Partnership won't die down. Stuart Hampson, the deputy chairman and chairman-elect of the department stores and Waitrose supermarkets group, has been forced into print for the third time to justify his apron- wearing.

Readers of this column may recall how he told his 34,000 John Lewis colleagues last month that he saw no conflict between his membership of a secret society and becoming chairman of the group from next February. He has been a mason for 25 years.

More employees have since complained. One demanded in the pages of the staff magazine that Mr Hampson quit the Freemasonry so as to be above suspicion.

Another correspondent pointed to the Labour MP Chris Mullin's Secret Societies (Declaration) Bill, which seeks to force public officials to declare their membership of any secret society.

A third, signing himself 'Simple Question', demanded that all John Lewis's senior figures should state categorically whether or not they were Freemasons.

Otherwise, worries about 'a creed of mutual self-advancement' would persist.

Insiders at the Victoria Street HQ in London are alarmed that this hasn't prompted a response from senior managers.

After all, Peter Lewis, the current chairman, silenced the speculation about himself with a simple statement that he was not a mason, nor ever had been.

Why, the conspiracy theorists argue, haven't his colleagues followed suit? Could it be that the highest ranks of the partnership really are riddled with Freemasons?