Saturday July 29, 2000
Police ignore freemason survey
Police officers may be required to reveal whether they are freemasons after almost two-thirds refused to cooperate with an official study of membership of the secretive society, the government announced yesterday.
Ministers had hoped that a request for voluntary declaration of membership would allay public anxiety about the existence of masonic networks in the criminal justice system. But the proportion of officers in England and Wales responding to the survey amounted to only 36%, compared with 96% of judges and 87% of magistrates.
Jack Straw, the home secretary, said that he would consult police representatives to see how to obtain a "satisfactory" response from officers.
Responding to a critical home affairs select committee report published yesterday, Mr Straw said that the judiciary and magistrates had demonstrated that registration could be adequately achieved "on a voluntary basis and without legislation".
"However, this has not so far been the case in police forces," said Mr Straw's statement, "and the Home Office will therefore be consulting the police service about how to achieve a satisfactory response rate, whether through changing the way in which voluntary registration is conducted, or through legislating to require registration."
Mr Straw acknowledged the committee's conclusion that there was "a widespread public perception" that freemasonry could have an unhealthy influence on the courts.
"The government is committed to ensuring public confidence in their police service," he said.
"It is important that the police service now work with us to develop arrangements which will deliver this confidence."
The Home Office said that among judges, 5% declared they were masons; 89% declared non-membership; and 1% declined to say. Among magistrates, 5% declared as masons, 80% non-masons, and 2% refused to say.
The voluntary system was operated by 32 of the 43 police forces in England and Wales. Of the 36% of police and civil ian support staff who did respond, 1% declared as masons; 89% declared non-membership; and 9% refused to say.
Sussex chief constable Paul Whitehouse, spokesman of the Association of Chief Police Officers, said that the association welcomed further consultation with the government on the issue of registration of freemasonry.
John Hamill, director of communications at the United Grand Lodge of England, said that freemasons would oppose any move to force police officers to declare membership. "We see that as singling out freemasons for discrimination based on a false perception," he said.
The consultation will seek responses by the end of December.