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Masons and Local Government

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Anything to Declare?
Thursday, 2nd March, 2000 BBC2 South

An investigation by BBC Southern Eye has found that freemasons in local government do not always declare their interests. The programme has discovered that there are at least 14 councillors with masonic connections in Dorset. Twelve of those are involved in the planning process.


According to the local government code of conduct, councillors should always declare an interest if a freemason from their lodge submits a planning application. Southern Eye show how four of the councillors failed to follow the code.

Derek Burt has been on the planning committee at East Dorset District Council for 34 years and for the past 20 of those he has been in the same masonic lodge as the developer Harry J Palmer. He did not declare this interest when he considered planning applications from Mr Palmer's company to build in Corfe Mullen and Wimborne.

Mr Burt is one of three freemasons on the 15-strong planning committee and there is no suggestion that he improperly influenced the decisions. But according to the local government code of conduct, he should have left the meetings while the applications were being discussed.

There are also masonic councillors on West Dorset District Council. Terry Farmer has been in Sherborne lodge since 1985, but he did not declare this interest when three different members of his lodge submitted planning applications.

Mr Farmer
Mr Farmer

Mr Farmer tells Southern Eye that none of the applicants were personal friends: "All the lodge members don't go to the lodge. Some people like me are not frequent attenders because they have other commitments in public life. I don't think in practice you could keep to the rules."

The Local Government Ombudsman, Jerry White, cannot comment on individual cases. But he insists it is vital that councillors do keep to the rules. He says: "This is after all a secret society. It works on secret signs, secret codes of language, meetings are held behind closed doors, and many people are suspicious that masons are there to further the ends of other masons. Well that’s a suspicion that really can't be allowed to visit local government."

Jerry White
Jerry White

Two years ago, the Government announced it was setting up a register of freemasons in the criminal justice system, but at the moment it is only voluntary. Southern Eye considers whether a compulsory register of freemasons working in public life is necessary.

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southern.eye@bbc.co.ukLinks to external sites/organisations that may be of further interest.

BBC Online:
Freemasons - moral guardians or centre of corruption?

Freemasons: The silent destroyers?

Grand Lodge of Great Britain

Internet Lodge

Provincial Grand Lodge of Dorset ourworld.compuserve.com/homepages/PGL_Dorset

Provincial Grand Lodge of Sussex

Provincial Grand Lodge of Berkshire

Masonic Regalia Showroom.

The BBC cannot accept responsibility for the content of external links/information supplied.

Further Reading:

UK Freemasonry in the News, have the 'Brethren' finally met their Waterloo?