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Wednesday, May 26, 1999 Published at 08:22 GMT 09:22 UK

UK Politics

Call to free up masons

Little evidence of masonic links to Birmingham Six case

Police forces in England and Wales have been accused of being too slow in setting up registers for staff to declare if they are freemasons.

The government says people working in the criminal justice system should state in voluntary registers whether they are masons.

But the Commons Home Affairs Committee has said it is disappointed at the number who've complied.

The chairman of the committee said that legislation may be needed to require members of the criminal justice system to reveal if they are freemasons.

The BBC's Jon Silverman: "41% of Crown Prosecution Service staff failed to respond when asked about masonic membership"
When asked by the BBC if new laws were needed on disclosure chairman Chris Mullin, said: "They'll have to be if anything is going to change."

The MP was speaking after the Home Affairs Committee published its reports into the influence of freemasons on public life.

Mr Mullin said voluntary registration of membership was failing due to "foot dragging" within some branches of the legal system.

[ image: Chris Mullin: Laws are needed]
Chris Mullin: Laws are needed
But he said his report had found little evidence that freemasons were responsible for miscarriages of justice.

"The excessive paranoia over freemasons has only exacerbated the situation - as far as justice is concerned it is important that it is done, and that it is seen to be done."

The public's faith in this, he said, could be undermined by the presence of a secret society at the heart of the criminal justice system.

Paul Whitehouse of the Association of Chief Police Officers denied police forces were unwilling to co-operate.

He said there was concern within the force over who would have access to the information once it was disclosed.

In its report, the Commons committee expressed disappointment at the slow progress of moves to make members of the police and judiciary declare whether they are masons.

It said: "Such persons should not be allowed to exempt themselves entirely from the process simply by declining to co-operate."

[ image: Up to 10% of judges could be masons]
Up to 10% of judges could be masons
Out of the professional magistrates and judges asked to declare whether they were members, more than 5% either refused to say or failed to reply to the request.

Among lay magistrates, more than 14% did not answer the question.

The report said on figures given, up to 20% of lay magistrates could be masons and up to 10% of judges and professional magistrates.

But it said it had found no evidence of masonic links to miscarriages of justice.

In the case of the disbanded West Midlands Serious Crime Squad, the report concluded that freemasonry was not a primary cause of the squad's problems "although we cannot entirely exclude the possibility that it may have been a contributory factor".

The Grand Lodge confirmed that eight masons had belonged to the squad, two of whom had featured in allegations of corruption although they had never been charged or disciplined.

Another eight masons and a very high-ranking former mason were identified as being involved in the Birmingham pub bombings investigation, which led to one of the country's worst miscarriages of justice.

[ image: The report is a
The report is a "vindication" say masons
Although masonic influence was ruled out as a factor involving police officers, it "could" have been a factor in the "close and unprofessional relationship" between a forensic scientist and police.

But the report concludes it was unlikely to be a "significant factor" in the miscarriage of justice.

Links were also investigated between freemasonry and the "Stalker affair", in which Deputy Chief Constable of Manchester, John Stalker, was removed from heading an inquiry into whether security forces in Northern Ireland were shooting to kill.

Two out of seven high-ranking police officers involved in the affair were or had been masons.

The report concluded that on the basis on information supplied, it could not conclude freemasonry played a significant part, nor rule it out completely.

The report has been welcomed by the United Grand Lodge of England, which claimed it was a "vindication".

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