By, Martin Short
By, Martin Short
'On this island you cannot breathe, fart, piss or whistle without them knowing about it.' The island of which former nightclub-owner Derek Smith speaks is the Isle of Wight. Them are the Freemasons.
The island's sixteen Craft lodges claim 1,500 members. Wight's entire population is only 110,000 of whom some 40,000 are adult males, so one man in twenty-seven must be a Mason. If we discount unlikely Masonic recruiting material (men under twenty-five, the poor, derelicts and most inmates in Albany and Parkhurst jails) the ratio comes down to one in ten. Most are in business, local government, the police and the law, so it follows that a very large percentage of all island business goes through Masonic hands.
Certainly, Freemasons know everything about Derek Smith, who qualifies as the islander least likely to be a Mason: he is raffish, contemptous of class distinctions and he does not suffer fools gladly. At first meeting he seemed to me rather like an end-of-the-pier arcade operator, so I congratulated myself when he later told me that arcades and slot machines is how he started in business. In the 1960s he was operating 400 machines on the island, as well as nine restaurants and cafes, some betting shops and two casinos. In 1968 when Britain tightened its gaming laws, he quit casinos and betting to concentrate on running nightclubs and discotheques. That is how he came nose-to-nose with the brothers.
In 1985 Derek was the owner of the Blitz discotheque in Newport which he ran with his son Nigel. Crucial to a nightspot's success is a late-night drinks licence. Without it you may soon go out of business. Blitz's licence allowed the Smiths to serve drinks until 2 A.M. but the law obliged them to serve food as well. The 1964 Licensing Act states that drinks should only be incidental to the business of food and dance. The Smiths served food such as beefburgers but, like every other disco, people went there to dance, drink and make friends, not to stuff their faces with hot dogs and onions. Smith says:
No discotheque complies strictly with the law. If they did, they would have to be able to feed everybody at the same time. One local disco can pack as many as 1,500 customers in during the tourist season, but it has only thirty eating places. The police could 'do' that place any time, and all the others on the island. It's entirely up to them who they choose to shut down.In October 1985 eighteen police raided Blitz on suspicion that Smith was not serving food as the law demanded. They then applied for his licence to be revoked. Smith said that if he was guilty, so were all his competitors. He claimed he was the victim of 'discretionary policing'. He may be right. Nowadays chief constables perpetually cry that policing is about 'priorities'. There are so many laws, and so many crimes, that they do not have the manpower to enforce every law all the time. This leaves the choice of target in any field of crime - drug-dealing, gambling, prostitution, or after-hours drinking - to the discretion of local officers, thus giving them awesome power, which is wide open to abuse and corruption. Even if they act only in response to complaints from the public, they are still susceptible to manipulation by any groups who choose to conduct a vendetta against a particular individual or his business.
In December 1985 Smith found himself before three licensing justices, fighting for his discoteque's survival. He feared Freemasonry might have played some part in his troubles, so when the officer who led the raid, Inspector Gerald Marsh, stepped into the witness box Smith asked him directly if he was a Freemason. At first Marsh refused to answer, then (says Smith) he dropped his eyes and insisted he reply, so the Inspector said he would like to consult the police prosecutor. She told him: 'You must answer as you wish. I cannot advise you.' At last, Marsh said: 'I am'.
Smith then turned to address the three Justices of the Peace who were hearing the case:
I am concerned at the possibility that any members of the bench hearing this case might be a Freemason, and under the terms of their obligation, would be obliged to believe the evidence of a Brother against my word ...I am not aware that any of their worships are Freemasons but I know that Inspector Marsh is.The JPs were flummoxed. The chairman told Smith his questioning was irrelevent, but then volunteered that he himself was not a Mason and neither was one of his fellow Justices. This was no news to Smith because one of the 'beaks' was a woman. The third remained deafeningly silent throughtout.
Smith claimed he did serve meals till two in the morning. He was backed up by the chairman of the local amenities committee, Councillor Jeff Manners, who testified he had seen food served in the early hours. Despite this impecable evidence, Smith's tactics did him no good at all: he lost his liscence, was forced to shut down, and sold the premises a few months later.
Other people had been battling with Isle of Wight Masons for years, especially over the widespread abuse of licensing laws by Masonic publicans. One of these had been doing roaring after-hours trade, damaging the legitimate business of a neighbouring landlord who had no Masonic protection and so had to operate within the law. Complaints to the police had no effect until angry islanders (not Smith) approached one superintendent who was a lapsed Mason and applied the law without fear or favour. One afternoon well past closing time, he drove by the pub and saw a dozen cars outside. The hostelry stood alone in a country lane, so it was obvious that heavy boozing was going on inside.
Grabbing an inspector, the superintendent raided the pub and found it was full of other publicans. The landlord claimed he was hosting a private meeting of licensees, no one was paying for their drinks, and besides they were all 'on the square'. Rejecting this Masonic approach, the inspector said: 'I don't give a fuck. You're nicked.' After taking the drinkers names and addresses, the officers told them to leave. They were all so drunk they had to be taxied home.
The publican was fined but he kept his licence, which some islanders feel was remarkably soft treatment compared with Smith's outright loss of licence years later. He says the power of Masonry on the island is so great that 'if you're not in it, you suffer the pain of exclusion. No one will do business with you. You are sent to Coventry.'
Smith is a rough diamond, and his blunt manner may be the cause of some of his misfortunes. Yet his case raises the possiblity that Masonic bonds between police, publicans and magistrates may lead to the arbitrary application of the law, and to vendettas against anyone who dares challenge traditional ways of doing business in a small, controllable community.
There is no doubt that throughout Britain Freemasonry is very strong on 'the Bench' (the collective term for magistrates and licensing justices). In 1973 a survey in one provincial city discovered that twenty-nine out of forty-three magistrates were Masons or Rotarians. Some of the Masons' own yearbooks reveal many brethren weith 'JP' after their names. Warwickshire boasts twenty-eight JPs among Masons of provincial grand rank. Many more Masons in this heavily populated county are JPs, but the yearbook has no space to list their worldly honours. In East and West Kent the tally is twenty-six. The 1985-86 Knights Templar yearbook names sixty-one JPs as members of this Masonic order in England and Wales. Such factual morsels indicate that the true number of Mason JPs in Britain runs into hundreds. Anyone's chances of appearing before a Mason-free slate of three magistrates are almost nil - unless all of them are women.
For almost wenty-five yars Ian Mortan worked as an administrator in Derbyshire magistrates courts, spending the last thirteen years as an assistant principal officer in Chesterfield. He was also a Conservative borough councillor for seven years. His father had been a Mason in Scotland and Mortan himself was perfect Mason material. Yet he never joined, either as a young man or when he achieved suitable worldly status. What he saw going on at the courts was more than enough to put him off joining.
All this suff about Masonic signals may well be true, but in my experience Masons aren't let off in court. They don't even get into court! We used to see all the police files and we could never understand why some people were prosecuted and others were not; why working-class men under thirty were breathalysed, but not professional people; why boys on 125 Yamaha bikes were done for speeding but not older men driving Rolls-Royces or Jaguars. Over many years we found out who the Freemasons were, and that's when all these decisions made sense.Mr. Morton's present wife, Rae, used to be married to a Mason and came to understand how the Craft justified its covert control of so much of British society. 'I was always told Freemasonry was "the benevolent Mafia" and that "we know best". When I showed the couple a Derbyshire Masonic Yearbook, they identified not only a large number of JPs, but also many justices, clerks, councillors, policement, solicitors and estate agents. This only reinforced Ian Morton's opinions which he had expressed two years earlier in a letter published in a local newspaper:
It is high time that Freemasons were obliged to state their interests and the mere fact that they are reluctant to do so is more than adequate reason to demand that they do. Anyone in or standing for public office should be prepared to be open, as to their interests and affiliations. That is all that is being asked. If a list is successfully completed, it must be published. Anything less would be an insult.Further evidence of how Freemasonry operates in magistrates' courts comes from the far north of England. A Justice of the Peace had read The Brotherhood and wrote to offer his own experiences about life on the Bench. In later conversations he asked me not to name him in this book, for obvious reasons.
There are some sixty JPs on our bench and vacancies come up most years. They are filled on the advice of a small group of magistrates who are known as the Lord Chancellor's Advisory Committee for that area. To my surprise I was asked to go on this committee - I was the first Catholic chosen for many years.The coroner's court is another place where the Masons often preside. This merely reflects Masonic dominance in the professions from which coroners are selected: the law and medicine. Until recently Gloucester's District Coroner was the Freemason Russel Jessop. In 1978 this solicitor was Grand Registrar: England's fifth highest Mason that year. For ten years he was also Grand Secretary of Gloucestershire, overseeing sixty-seven lodges with some 5,000 members. He is also a 30th degree member of the Ancient and Accepted Rite. His St Thomas's Chapter colleagues revere him as Grand Elected Knight Kadosh and Knight of the Black and White Eagle.
What I saw going on in the committee astonished me. For a start, no one is meant to serve on it for more than six years, but one man had been there for more than twelve. I also noticed the same two men were constantly nominating people to fill the vacancies. I was amazed at their range of acquaintances, people from all walks of professional life, and all of them thoroughly competent. They were OK in themselves. It was the way they came to our attention which was so obnoxious.
I soon found out that the two men who nominated them all, and the man who had served more than twelve years on the committee, were all Freemasons. Their whole operation was subtle and well-planned. Even the women they nominated turned out to be wives of Freemasons!
Although our Bench was very efficient, the Lord Chancellor's representative came to tell us that our appointments were getting out of balance. There were too many teachers and too many Conservatives. This encouraged me to use my power of veto. All you have to do to stop the appointment of a new JP is to say you object. No one may ask you why - you simply say so. Whenever the two Masons pushed their luck byputting up too many of their friends I would say, 'I cannot support this nomination.' They got the message after a while and cut down on their offers.
I'm off the Committee now, having served my maximum six years, but the other fellow is still on it! One of my colleagues suggested our whole selection procedure should be made public, but this did not go down very well and was rejected. Certain people must have thought their way of doing business would have been exposed at last!
In 1983 Jessop presided over a controversial inquest. That July a ninteen-year-old motorcyclist name Mark Bilney had died from mulitiple injuries after colliding with a police constable and crashing into an oncoming car. At the inquest PC Peter Rowlands testified that he had 'walked crisply' into the road and used his torch to signal Bilney to stop, but that Bilney accelerated straight at him. Rowlands claimed he was hit and spun round, but made 'no action at all to add to a collision'. He said that Bilney's action was 'not far short of a suicide attempt'.
Death by misadventure, recorded Coroner Jessop.
However, three eye-witnesses had given him a different description of the tragedy. They said that Rowlands had appeared from behind a police car and jumped into Bilney's path. Far from deliberately driving at the policeman, Bilney had slowed to avoid him but Rowlands ran at him, waving his torch and shouting 'Stop'. An eighteen-year-old girl, named Jane Manning, saw what happened:
The police officer ran inot the road. Mark was nearly on top of him. The police officer was facing Mark. His right arm was held out with the torch in it and I heard him say 'Stop'. Mark had to swerve to avoid the officer. There was not time for Mark to pull to a stop. I saw him swing his right arm forward and hit Mark on the right side of his face or shoulder. Mark seemed stunned. His bike went off into a car that was behind us...Mark died in the road from mulitiple injuries. His mother is convinced that when she saw his body in hospital, there was a mark on his right cheek: 'It was a circular indentation and had not broken the skin.' When the pathologist was later asked by a journalist if he had recorded this indentation, he refused to discuss his report because it was 'confidential to the Coroner'.
Following complaints by the dead boy's parents, the Director of Public Prosecutions investigated the incident but decided there was insufficient evidence to support criminal proceedings against PC Rowlands. Later Mr and Mrs Bliney were denied legal aid for a private prosecution against the police. However, the Bilney's grievance is against not only the police but also Coroner Jessop for the way he handles the inquest. They claim he accepted only the police version of what happened and played down all evidence conflicting with it. Mr and Mrs Bilney wanted him investigated but the D of PP has no jurisdiction over coroners' courts, nor could they get legal aid to fight his 'misadventure' verdict.
Jessop served as Glouchester's Cororoner for twenty-four years, a reign topped and tailed by controversy. When he was appointed in 1960 twenty-three doctors objected. They felt the post should have gone to the acting coroner, whose father and grandfather had held it for the previous fifty years, but Jessop was confirmed. The post, after all, was not hereditary. Yet when he retired in 1984 Jessop expected the job to go to his deputy: a partner in Jessop's own firm of solicitors. When another solicitor was chosen instead, Jessop called it a slur on his own man.
In a letter to the Gloucester Citizen, he said he found it difficult to understand how a coroner could supply the best possible public service when he had no experience of the job. He thus overlooked the circumstances of his own appointment back in 1960. Jessop had to call on all his experience when he convened the Mark Bilney inquest. He managed it all on his own, without the aid of a jury. It took years for Mark's parents to realize how odd this was. According to the law governing inquests, a coroner shall proceed to summon a jury if there is reason to suspect 'that the death occured while the deceased was in police custody, or resulted from an injury caused by a police officer in the purported execution of his duty'.(1)
Several witnesses say in their statements (available to Jessop before the inquest) that Mark Bilney crashed because of the actions of a police officer purportedly doing his duty. This is clear even from PC Rowland's statement. He denied deliberately hitting Bilney with the torch (which, incidently, was not produced in evidence) but the collision was clearly caused when, doing his job as he saw fit, he walked out on the road into the path of the advancing motorcyclist. He himelf said,
I felt I had time to react before I felt a strong blow to my right arm below my elbow. I remember it spun me around but I don't recall whether I fell or stumbled. I don't know whether it was the deceased or the motor-cycle that collided with my arm, but the collision wrenched the torch from my hand. I did not see the torch again.
This version, alongside the accounts of other witnesses, would seem to demand that Jessop summon a jury. Yet did not do so.
In 1963 Jessop himself had been on trial, over an accident which occured when he was travelling home from Cardiff. In order to overtake a vehicle he drove his car onto the opposite side of the highway. This caused a head-on collision and the death of two people. Charged with dangerous driving, he pleaded not guilty but was convicted, finded 100 Pounds and disqualified from driving for three years. The killings had occured in another coroner's territory. Otherwise, surely, Coroner Jessop would have been compelled to stand down.
1. Section 13 (2) of the Coroners (Amendment) Act 1926, as amended by the Administration
of Justice Act 1982 section 62.
Martin Short wrote, produced and narrated the prize-winning ITV documentary series on the Mafia in America, Crime Incorporated. To accompany the series, he wrote Crime Inc.: A History of Organized Crime in America. In addition to writing feature articles for The Times, The Spectator, New Statesman, Time Out and Special Forces, he co-authored (in 1977) The Fall of Scotland Yard, about police corruption in London. He is also the author of Lundy: The Destruction of Scotland Yard's Finest Detective (1991).
After reading history at Cambridge University, he worked - from 1969 to 1984 - on major current affairs programmes for the ITV companies Thames, Granada and London Weekend (on the Lebanon) and for Channel 4's Dispatches series (on the international arms trade). In 1988 he presented Charlie Richardson and the British Mafia for Longshot Productions and Channel 4. His series based on Inside the Brothehood appeared on ITV in 1989, and in 1994 he produced and presented the ITV series Gangbusters.