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.

Alexis Sanchez has completed a £35m move to Arsenal, the club have confirmed
sportGunners complete £35m signing of Barcelona forward
Poor teachers should be fearful of not getting pay rises or losing their job if they fail to perform, Steve Fairclough, headteacher of Abbotsholme School, suggested
voicesChris Sloggett explains why it has become an impossible career path
world cup 2014
Ray Whelan was arrested earlier this week
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
In a minor key: Keira Knightley in the lightweight 'Begin Again'
Arts and Entertainment
Celebrated children’s author Allan Ahlberg, best known for Each Peach Pear Plum
peopleIndian actress known as the 'Grand Old Lady of Bollywood' was 102
Wayne’s estate faces a claim for alleged copyright breaches
newsJohn Wayne's heirs duke it out with university over use of the late film star's nickname
Life and Style
It beggars belief: the homeless and hungry are weary, tortured, ghosts of people – with bodies contorted by imperceptible pain
lifeRough sleepers exist in every city. Hear the stories of those whose luck has run out
Mick Jagger performing at Glastonbury
Life and Style
fashionJ Crew introduces triple zero size to meet the Asia market demand
Santi Cazorla, Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini of Arsenal launch the new Puma Arsenal kits at the Puma Store on Carnaby Street
sportMassive deal worth £150m over the next five years
Arts and Entertainment
Welsh opera singer Katherine Jenkins
musicHolyrood MPs 'staggered' at lack of Scottish artists performing
Life and Style
beautyBelgian fan lands L'Oreal campaign after being spotted at World Cup
Arts and Entertainment
Currently there is nothing to prevent all-male or all-female couples from competing against mixed sex partners at any of the country’s ballroom dancing events
Potential ban on same-sex partners in ballroom dancing competitions amounts to 'illegal discrimination'
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Business Analyst Consultant (Financial Services)

£60000 - £75000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Business Analyst Consultant (Fina...

Systems Administrator - Linux / Unix / Windows / TCP/IP / SAN

£60000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A leading provider in investment managemen...

AVS, JVS Openlink Endur Developer

£600 - £700 per day: Harrington Starr: AVS, JVS Openlink Endur Developer JVS, ...

E-Commerce Developer

£45000 - £60000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Exciting opp...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice