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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
The Queen and the letter sent to Charlie
Arts and Entertainment
Eurovision Song Contest 2015
EurovisionGoogle marks the 2015 show
Two lesbians hold hands at a gay pride parade.
peopleIrish journalist shares moving story on day of referendum
Arts and Entertainment
<b>Kathryn Williams</b>
When I was supporting Ray La Montagne I was six months pregnant. He had been touring for a year and he was exhausted and full of the cold. I was feeling motherly, so I would leave presents for him and his band: Tunnock's Tea Cakes, cold remedies and proper tea. Ray seemed painfully shy. He hardly spoke, hardly looked at you in the face. I felt like a dick speaking to him, but said "hi" every day. </p>
He was being courted by the same record company who had signed me and subsequently let me go, and I wanted him to know that there were people around who didn't want anything from him. At the Shepherds Bush Empire in London, on the last night of the tour, Ray stopped in his set to thank me for doing the support. He said I was a really good songwriter and people should buy my stuff. I was taken aback and felt emotionally overwhelmed. Later that year, just before I had my boy Louis, I was l asleep in bed with Radio 4 on when Louis moved around in my belly and woke me up. Ray was doing a session on the World Service. </p>
I really believe that Louis recognised the music from the tour, and when I gave birth to him at home I played Ray's record as something that he would recognise to come into the world with. </p>
booksKathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
Liz Kendall played a key role in the introduction of the smoking ban
newsLiz Kendall: profile
Life and Style
techPatent specifies 'anthropomorphic device' to control media devices
The PM proposed 'commonsense restrictions' on migrant benefits
voicesAndrew Grice: Prime Minister can talk 'one nation Conservatism' but putting it into action will be tougher
Latest stories from i100
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

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?