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Thursday, March 5, 1998 Published at 18:49 GMT


Masons bow to names demand

British freemasons have decided to break with tradition and reveal the names of members after they were threatened with being charged with contempt.

Names will be kept secret, David Winnick of Home Affairs Committee tells BBC News 24 (2' 05')
The United Grand Lodge of England was told it must hand over the names of members involved in several controversial police inquiries to the Commons Home Affairs Committee by the end of Thursday - or face a possible charge of contempt of Parliament.

Refusal could have resulted in its leaders being summoned before the House to explain themselves and even face imprisonment.

[ image: David Winnick, MP:
David Winnick, MP: "we will certainly keep our word"
The Home Affairs Committee said it will not reveal the names, except on a confidential basis to the chairman and the clerk of the Committee.

"We will then decide if there is any further action we need to take regarding the possible involvement of freemasons in the miscarriage of justice," said David Winnick of the Home Affairs Committee.

The lodge's main policymaking body, the Board of General Purposes, met on Wednesday night in private at the Freemasons Hall in Covent Garden, central London, to discuss its response.

The move by MPs follows a heated session two weeks ago when the Lodge's Grand Secretary, Commander Michael Higham, clashed with the chairman of the Committee, the Labour MP Chris Mullin.

Cdr Higham repeatedly rejected demands from the MPs to name masons who were police officers involved in the Birmingham pub bomb investigation, the Stalker inquiry, or who were members of the discredited and eventually disbanded West Midlands Serious Crimes Squad.

Afterwards the committee took the rare step of issuing a formal summons to the Lodge ordering it to hand over the information.

The Board of General Purposes, had to decide whether to bow to the committee's demands or face the consequences of continuing its defiance.

The clash came after the Home Secretary, Jack Straw, announced he would set up a public register of freemasons in the Criminal Justice System, including judges and police officers.


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