Police chief defies Straw over masons

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The Independent Online
THE CHIEF Constable of Merseyside has defied the Home Secretary's call to set up a register of Freemasons in the force, saying he sees nothing wrong with membership of the secretive organisation.

Norman Bettison has written an open letter to all members in his force telling them he has set up a general "register of interests" rather than the list of Masons that Jack Straw wants. His letter uses the phrases, "some of my good friends are Freemasons" and, "I have never had any reason to question the integrity or honesty of anyone that I have known to be a Freemason".

The letter may also alarm members of the Commons Home Affairs Committee, which has investigated the level of influence of Freemasonry within the criminal justice system. The Chief Constable says in the letter, distributed to the Freemason officers through their Provincial Grand Master, he has "never witnessed undue Masonic influence in any professional arena".

He points out he has never been one and says: "I do not view membership of Free-masonry in a negative light and membership would never count for or against an officer or support staff member in any selection, promotion or discipline decision."

In the letter, Mr Bettison said people had the right to associate with anyone they chose as long as it was for a lawful purpose. He added: "Notwithstanding my views, there is a widespread perception that Freemasons have an unhealthy influence on the criminal justice system and a recent Parliamentary Select Committee did nothing to dispel that perception."

The Association of Chief Police Officers also supports voluntary registers of freemasons.

Details of the letter, written last month and seen by The Independent, emerged as it was revealed everyone joining the Probation Service will have to make a compulsory declaration of their links to the Masons as a condition of employment.

The condition, recorded in a draft Home Office proposal also seen by The Independent, prompted fears that the Home Office was allowing a two- tier system of Freemasonry registers to develop, with judges, magistrates and probation officers forced to declare their links as a condition of employment, leaving police, prison officers and crown prosecution staff on a voluntary system.

Harry Fletcher, of the National Association of Probation Officers, said: "Membership of secret societies implies grace and favours. The Home Office is treating with soft gloves the very agencies where there is greatest public concern about secret societies."