Masons in turmoil as sacking at top shocks secret brotherhood
Members furious at being kept in the dark over unprecedented dismissal
Friday May 5, 2006
It is the ultimate secret society, a fraternal organisation of influential men who attract almost as many conspiracy theories as members. But the brotherly bonds and code of silence that link 800,000 freemasons are under strain after the unprecedented dismissal of the chief executive of the United Grand Lodge of England.
The peak body for 10,000 masonic lodges was plunged into crisis after Robert Morrow, a former executive at NatWest bank, was hauled in front of a disciplinary hearing a day before the lodge's annual ceremony in London, attended by the Duke of Kent, the grand master of the United Grand Lodge of England. Ordinary members only realised Mr Morrow had not been reappointed to his £100,000-plus post when he failed to appear at the annual investiture ceremony at the historic Freemasons' Hall, the masonic headquarters in Covent Garden. Nor was he present at the lavish post-ceremony dinner in the nearby New Connaught Rooms. "It's a bit like going to Tesco's AGM and finding Sir Terry Leahy is not there," said one disgruntled mason.
The annual reappointment of the grand secretary is normally a formality. Members of the lodge said they had never known their chief executive to be, in effect, sacked. As grand secretary, Mr Morrow was responsible for the day-to-day running of the United Grand Lodge of England, a job demanding all the skills of a chief executive managing a lucrative set of London properties with an unusual amount of discretion.
Since freemasons combined lodges in London in 1717 and the first masonic rulebook was published six years later, their arcane rituals and grandiose titles have attracted members and curiosity in equal measure. Queen Victoria's son Albert Edward, the Prince of Wales, was a masonic grand master, but resigned his post on becoming king in 1901. Other prominent freemasons include Winston Churchill, Peter Sellers and Rudyard Kipling. A growing number of public figures are now obliged to declare membership, including judges, police and probation officers - but not MPs.
Although masons tackle the conspiracies that proliferate via the internet and the Da Vinci Code by insisting they are not a secret society, Mr Morrow's abrupt departure is, like most masonic business, shrouded in secrecy. They may follow principles of brotherly love, relief (charity) and truth, but ordinary masons are furious that they have not been given a reason for the dismissal of their grand secretary, who was appointed in 2002 and would normally be expected to serve at least 10 years. Masonic machinations in Spain - where masonry was banned and masons persecuted under General Franco - is understood to be one of the key charges against Mr Morrow, who was hauled before a grand lodge disciplinary hearing on April 25.
With so many expat businessmen living in Spain, some British masons are members of masonic lodges in England and Spain. When the Grand Lodge of Spain came to elect a new grand master, a number of British masons living in Spain were able to vote in the elections.
According to one English mason, Mr Morrow was accused of manipulating the election by urging his British members to back a particular candidate in Spain, a charge which allegedly led to the grand master of Spain to write to the English lodge, condemning Mr Morrow's behaviour as "absolutely outrageous". It is understood that he categorically denies the charges. Documentary evidence that he did not interfere in the affairs of the Spanish lodge will form part of an internal appeal against his sacking.
"There is a great deal of speculation," Mr Morrow said last night. "All masonic rumours are inherently true, especially those with no basis whatsoever in fact. There are many stories going around and I would rather not comment on any."
One mason, who preferred to remain anonymous, called for a proper explanation for his dismissal. "We all pay enormous amounts of subscriptions to these people yet we are not considered to be worthy of knowing what is going on."
A spokeswoman for the United Grand Lodge of England confirmed that Mr Morrow's dismissal was "unprecedented in recent history".
The lodge said in a statement: "On the 25th April 2006, following a disciplinary hearing, Bro Morrow was dismissed and as a consequence was not re-appointed as grand secretary.
"The reasons related to the implementation of the agreed policy of United Grand Lodge of England in relation to overseas grand lodges and his reporting of his activities in this area. The disciplinary process is continuing, and steps to appoint a grand secretary will not be taken until after it is completed."
The spokeswoman said the appeal process would take up to four weeks.