The pressure on police officers has increased with a new demand from the Police Complaints Authority that police officers be compelled to disclose Masonic membership in a register open to public scrutiny. In its submission to the House of Commons Select Committee on Home Affairs, which is considering the issue of Masons and the legal system and whether restrictions are needed, the PCA says that although there is no firm evidence of abuse, the suspicions that there are misuses linked to membership are not uncommon and need to be addressed.
A compulsory public register of officers "on the square" (as Masonic membership is sometimes referred to) would "start to dismantle the present culture of secrecy".
The position taken by the PCA follows a recent statement by the Association of Chief Officers (Acpo) which urged the Government to legislate for open registration.
The PCA chairman, John Cartright, said on BBC Radio's Today programme that a problem existed because it was unclear which officers were Freemasons. "We have the situation sometimes in quite serious investigations where we discover senior police officers or middle-ranking police officers are members of the same Masonic lodge as people who are suspected of quite serious criminal offences," he said. "There may be nothing wrong going on but certainly the public and critics put two and two together and jump to the wrong conclusion."
There are thought to be about 475,000 Freemasons in the UK and nearly 9,000 lodges. Initiation ceremonies, dating back to the early 18th century, still include blood oaths and vows of loyalty to fellow members of the Brotherhood.
Should the Home Secretary, Michael Howard, bow to the PCA and Acpo demands, rank-and-file police officers are likely demand the net is spread wider. The president of the Superintendents Association, Brian McKenzie, said that if the register was to apply to police it should apply to everyone within the criminal justice system. "We would have no objection at all to compulsory registration of interest in such things as Masonic lodges if indeed other components of the criminal justice system such as judges, Crown Prosecution Service lawyers and members of the PCA also declared an interest," he said. "They wield just as much power as police officers. Police officers feel there is an attack on their integrity."