Police defy force with Masonic lodge

Senior police officers have defied official disapproval and established a new Masonic lodge despite widespread public fears about the influence of the secret society on the criminal justice system.

Senior police officers have defied official disapproval and established a new Masonic lodge despite widespread public fears about the influence of the secret society on the criminal justice system.

The police-only lodge has been set up by officers from the West Mercia force area which covers Herefordshire, Worcestershire and Shropshire.

The West Mercia Lodge No 9719 was consecrated on 10 June in the village of Craven Arms, near Ludlow, Shropshire, with more than 200 seniorMasons in attendance. It is the 11th police-only lodge in Britain and the second in the West Midlands area - the other is in Worcester.

A list of "founders and first officers" of the lodge named 34 serving and retired officers in the lodge of the rank of chief inspector downwards. A further 11 officers are expected to join at the next meeting, which will take place in September.

Peter Neyroud, Assistant Chief Constable at West Mercia, confirmed that one of the new lodge's officers wrote to him in February to inform him of the move, but the force is clearly unhappy about it. "The constabulary would not encourage officers to become Freemasons in view of widespread public concerns over the need for transparency in police relationships with the community," Mr Neyroud said.

"If, despite this, officers make the individual decision to become Freemasons, the force would strongly encourage them to register this membership in the existing register of individuals' interests."

There has been growing public suspicion about the grip of Freemasonry on police officers. Following a number of scandals, in which Masonic influence was alleged - such as the investigation into the West Midlands Serious Crime Squad in the early Nineties - many people believe the all-male society has malign influence over some parts of the criminal justice system.

The first worshipful master of the lodge is Chief Inspector A W Sykes, who is based in Shrewsbury. Mr Sykes declined to comment. John Hamill, of the United Grand Lodge, said the Masons thought Mr Nayroud's fears were "ill founded".

Police chiefs have been split over how to respond to growing pressure from ministers and MPs for officers to declare whether they are Freemasons.

The Chief Constable of Merseyside, Norman Bettison, launched a general register of officers' interests by writing to his force last summer stating that he had no reason to question the integrity of Masons and he had good friends who were members of lodges.

The Chief Constable of Norfolk, Ken Williams, has said he does not believe membership of the Masons is compatible with being a police officer, primarily because of the public's negative view of the society.

The Commons Select Committee on Home Affairs ran an inquiry into Freemasonry in 1998-1999, and last year Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, announced a trial voluntary register for police officers to declare if they were Freemasons. Parallel steps have been taken for judges, probation officers and Crown Prosecution Service staff.

West Mercia said the force had a register of officers' outside interests but it was not a public document. It refused to say how many of the new lodge had declared membership of the Masons.

A member of the select committee, Robin Corbett, Labour MP for Birmingham Erdington, said the signs were that the voluntary register had failed. "We now believe that a register needs to be mandatory and public," he said, adding that the Home Office was a year overdue in responding to the committee's report.

"We are aware we owe the committee a response which we hope to deliver shortly," a Home Office spokesman said. "We would consider primary legislation if the voluntary arrangements proved to be ineffective."

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