The ruling body for chief constables said yesterday that existing freemasons should consider resigning from the society. The Association of Chief Police Officers called on the Government to introduce a new law to make registration of masonic membership compulsory. The police chiefs believe the register should be publicly available.
The move follows a series of allegations about corruption involving freemasons in the police force. The Commons Home Affairs Select Committee has just started an inquiry into freemasonry in the police and judiciary. Chief constables hope the measures announced yesterday will help allay public fears, which they believe are greatly exaggerated.
The masons are a secret fraternity of men who in a series of rituals pledge to assist one another ahead of all none-masonic commitments. Set up in 1717, their motto is Aude, Vide, Tace - hear, see and be silent. There are an estimated 350,000 members in England and Wales and there are at least 36 judges and barristers who hold the senior rank of Grand Officer. Although existing police members of masonic lodges will be able to avoid disclosing their involvement in the organisation by ignoring the register or by lying, the initiative by Acpo makes it very clear that membership will be frowned upon in future. Also, while the declarations about masonic membership will be voluntary, if an officer stays silent and later faces allegations involving freemasonry, his silence would count against him.
New Acpo guidance says there could be a conflict of interests for police officers who are freemasons and they should therefore "reconsider their continued membership".
Paul Whitehouse, Chief Constable of Sussex, speaking on behalf of Acpo, said: "I would be much happier in my force if there were no freemasons because it would stop people making allegations, however unfounded. It is vital that the police service shows it is open and accountable." Mr Whitehouse added that he was confident that the vast majority of chief constables and senior officers were not masons.
The policy, made by Acpo's ruling council, will also affect membership of other secret societies such as the Catholic sect, Opus Dei, an international organisation of about 80,000 members.
The register of interests would not be confined to freemasons but would also include members of other organisations required to give "a bond of loyalty", such as the trustees of charities.
Chief constables also agreed yesterday to back tougher drink-driving laws and called for a "one pint" limit. As predicted in The Independent in August they urged a reduction of the legal limit from 80mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood to 50mg.