Freemason sues leaders for £23m to save hospital

Courts/ 'Brothers' at odds

BRITAIN'S most senior Freemasons are being sued by fellow members of "the Brotherhood" for £23m in the biggest and potentially most embarrassing internal row in the body's history.

Freemasons trying to stop the sale of the Royal Masonic Hospital in west London have served a High Court writ on Commander Michael Higham RN, the Grand Secretary, claiming that he and Freemasonry's ruling Grand Lodge have been "meddling" in the running of the hospital. The action by rank- and-file masons against Grand Lodge is the first of its kind in masonic history. It dashes hopes among ruling masons that years of controversy over the hospital will be finally laid to rest.

Last week, Alan Lomas, a governor of the hospital, issued a High Court writ against Cdr Higham and the masons' central Grand Charity. It alleges that since 1981 their activities and literature "have been deliberately designed and unlawfully promoted in order to subvert the normal course of affairs" of the hospital.

Mr Lomas, 76, a former electrical contractor and a mason since 1957, said yesterday that he was fighting for the principles of the masons' pledge of brotherhood against Grand Lodge's attempts to close the hospital.

He and fellow governors - masons who have donated more than 10 guineas to the institution - believe the case will finally defeat Grand Lodge's attempts to sell the hospital, which was founded in 1933. Its188 beds made it the largest independent acute hospital in Europe, providing high standards of private health care for "paying masons of moderate means" at only the net cost of treatment.

But with low bed occupancy and modern private hospitals opening in London, the Royal Masonic ran into serious financial problems. In 1978 it started to take non-masons as private patients to try to improve its finances. In 1984 an American health company unsuccessfully bid £20m for the hospital.

In 1986, with Grand Lodge tiring of embarrassing adverse publicity, members of the hospital's management, backed by some of the highest-ranking masons, tried to sell it.

Opponents among the governors took their case to the High Court, which ordered a ballot of those who had contributed to the hospital financially. More than 300,000 masons and masonic organisations around the world were balloted. The opponents won and Grand Lodge was forced to concede defeat. By 1988/9 annual losses had climbed to around £2m and the Duke of Kent, president of the hospital and England's most senior Freemason, commissioned a report by management consultants Touche Ross.

Its findings, at a cost of £100,000, were that although the hospital had started to look to private patients it would have to abandon its masonic connections and change completely to private work.

The report, published in 1990, said the hospital needed £9.7m over the next three years. Grand Lodge said that, in return for substantial sums from masonry's Grand Charity, the hospital was expected to accept a new constitution allowing the duke to appoint a chairman and four members of the board.

The hospital's board rejected this. Almost immediately the Duke of Kent resigned as the hospital's president and Prince Michael of Kent, the Provincial Grand-Master for Middlesex, resigned as vice-president.

The hospital was racked by a series of controversies as it was revealed that its finance director was an undisclosed bankrupt, that various members of the senior management had been dismissed amid allegations of misdemeanours, and that the staff pension fund was millions of pounds "adrift".

Throughout this bitter wrangling, a group of governors, led by vice-patron Douglas Brooks, fought to keep the hospital open. Mr Brooks last year produced a costed proposal for running the Royal Masonic profitably.

But by then the Charity Commission had called in accountants Coopers and Lybrand to act as receiver and sort out the hospital's cash problem. Mr Brooks and his fellow governors were furious when they heard the firm's proposal that the Royal Masonic it be sold.

Last December, after much wrangling, a mass meeting of masons voted to close the hospital and wind up the charity that runs it. The hospital, with its nursing home for 166 and 8.5 acres of private gardens, was put on sale for £15m.

Mr Brooks was forced to abandon his legal bid to stop the sale. Mr Lomas said last week that he had taken up the cudgels on behalf of the hospital charity, his fellow governors, and Freemasonry.

His writ claims that Grand Lodge deliberately tried to deprive the hospital of donations and destroy the hospital charity. Mr Lomas is claiming £5m for loss of donations, on behalf of the charity, together with £8m for loss of income to the hospital's Samaritan Fund and £10m in damages.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
All in a day's work: the players in the forthcoming 'Posh People: Inside Tatler'
TVGrace Dent thinks we should learn to 'hug a Hooray Henry', because poshness is an accident of birth
News
Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.
peopleFormer Newsnight presenter is being touted for a brand new role
News
The two-year-old said she cut off her fringe because it was getting in her eyes
news
Arts and Entertainment
Avatar grossed $2.8bn at the box office after its release in 2009
film
Sport
football
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Modern Apprenticeship Assessor

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of Scotland's leading train...

h2 Recruit Ltd: Sales Director - SaaS (SME/Channel) - £140,000 OTE

£90000 - £140000 per annum + benefits: h2 Recruit Ltd: Are you a high achievin...

h2 Recruit Ltd: Telesales Executive - Cloud Software/SaaS - £37,000 OTE

£25000 - £37000 per annum + benefits: h2 Recruit Ltd: Are you seeking to furth...

h2 Recruit Ltd: Sales Manager - Welding, Power Tools and PPE - £45,000 OTE

£25000 - £45000 per annum + car + benefit: h2 Recruit Ltd: A fantastic and uni...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game