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
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
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

Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher A specialist primary school i...

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links