Professor of Freemasonry to probe murky past of Masonic Brotherhood
A leading historian has been appointed the UK's first-ever Professor of Freemasonry in a three year research programme to investigate alleged masonic collusion in organised crime.
Dr Andrew Prescott of the British Library has taken up the post at Sheffield University to oversee the £250,000 project which has been funded by the London-based United Grand Lodge of England and the Yorkshire West Riding Province of Freemasons.
Leaders of the 300,000-strong masonic fraternity have guaranteed Dr Prescott unrivalled access to its files, and have also instructed masonic lodges and chapters throughout the United Kingdom to co-operate with his research. This will include investigations into freemasonry's alleged link to corruption, conspiracy to murder and the operation of gangland-style criminal networks.
But the move has angered a leading critic of freemasonry who claims the project will be completely invalid unless the Brotherhood's entire membership list is made public.
The initiative to set-up the three year research programme came last year when senior freemasons were alarmed at mounting criticism of the organisation's attempts to open up to public scrutiny.
Masonic lodges around the country hold regular open days to allow the public to visit their temples and to meet leading local freemasons. Two years ago the province of West Kent launched a masonic roadshow to visit shopping centres throughout the county.
The roadshow's purpose, according to an internal masonic document, is to: "encourage the view that freemasonry is a force for good" and "to open freemasonry to public view and show that it is not a 'secret society.'"
One of the UK's leading critics of freemasonry, however, has dismissed such displays as no more than thinly disguised PR. He his also highly sceptical that the Sheffield University research project will produce any substantial results.
Martin Short, author of Inside the Brotherhood, told the IJR: "The only document of any significant value is the organisation's membership list."
He added: "If Dr Prescott can't publish that type of material then the entire research programme seems an entire waste of time. We will have to wait information he requests from the masonic leadership and what he then does with it."
In his book, which was published in the UK in 1989, Short makes a number of claims that freemasons have taken part in corrupt activities involving the police, local government, the City and the security and intelligence services.
Dr Prescott, who is not a freemason, told the IJR that he will keep an open mind about his research over the next three years. "There are a whole range of issues that need to be investigated, and given the tens of thousands of documents involved, then it may take some time to establish our priorities."
But he does not rule out conducting detailed investigations into alleged masonic wrongdoing. "If there is evidence of conspiracy or criminal involvement then such activities will be thoroughly pursued."
This week a senior masonic official told the IJR that the controversial organisation will co-operate with any of Dr Prescott's investigations.
John Hamill, the director of communications at the United Grand Lodge of England, said: "We can't make our membership list available for public inspection because we are prevented from doing so under the Data Protection Act."
But he pledged that any allegations of criminal conspiracy will be taken seriously. "We already work closely with the Local Government Ombudsman over allegations of corruption involving masonic councillors and council officials.
"Over the past five years the ombudsman has received some 79,000 complaints and yet only 22 involved allegations of masonic involvement."
And he believes allegations of corruption involving Masonic police officers is equally rare. "The Police Complaints Authority tell us that over the past 15 years they have only received 33 complaints involving allegations of masonic corruption."
Sheffield University itself operates a masonic lodge called University of Sheffield Lodge and which is lodge number 3911. The lodge was founded in 1918 and meets at the masonic Tapton Hall in Shore Lane four times a year.
A spokesman for Sheffield University said: "What individual members of staff do in their own time is their own business. We have no control whatsoever over this organisation."
o Comedian and television gameshow host Jim Davidson has been appointed the chairman of the Westminster City Council masonic lodge. Mr Davidson joined the show business-dominated Chelsea Lodge 11 years ago. But his membership of a lodge centred on the Tory-controlled Westminster City Council has angered some councillors in the borough. One opposition council member said: "What on earth is Jim Davidson's link with this council?" Council officers have distanced themselves from the move. "The City Council does not run or have any link with the lodge," said a spokesman. Meanwhile Mr Davidson will compere a £100-a-head Masonic Variety Show at the London Palladium in September.