MEETING PLACE: The Masonic Temple in Ilfracombe.
FREEMASONRY is still alive and well among councillors in North Devon and Torridge, according to a survey by the
North Devon Journal
This newspaper asked every member of North Devon Council and Torridge District Council if they were a freemason.
Some 11% of councillors said they were members of the society — and more members said they had been freemasons in the past.
But freemason Phil Daniel (Cons) was not sure if it was in the public interest to report he was a member.
He added: "I have never kept it secret that I am a mason, in fact I am proud to be one, especially in the light of all the good charity work that we do. Did you know that a UK lodge raised a million pounds in one year for a particular charity?
"So far as I am concerned the only secrecy is how the meetings are conducted and I do not see that there is any need for outsiders to know every little detail of the proceedings."
Although the majority of councillors are not freemasons, the investigation established that local politicians are roughly ten times more likely to be masons than non-councillors.
And many of the councillors who responded to our inquiry also put forward strong views about freemasonry and its role in local politics.
There are five freemasons on North Devon Council (out of 42 members) and four at Torridge (out of 36 members). In addition to the nine active members, there are at least three former members, meaning that about 15% of the councillor have been, or are, freemasons.
Some members were outraged we had even asked them the question while others said the public had no right to know if elected politicians were freemasons. Others compared freemasonry to a Rotary Club with less desire for publicity.
But other councillors expressed fear and loathing in relation to the freemasons and alleged there had been collusion among freemasons on local councils in the past.
Although councillors are obliged to record membership of groups such as the freemasons on their register of interests, a number of councillors were unaware that freemasonry came under this category.
North Devon councillor David Butt (Lib Dem), who is not a freemason, said it would be interesting to know which senior officers were among "the brethren".
While fellow member Rodney Cann (Ind), who is also not a freemason, said that at one time the masons had a "level of control" at the authority and were known as the "West Buckland mafia", but he thought their influence might have waned.
His views were echoed by other councillors, including Torridge's Len Ford (Lib Dem) who said that, in his opinion, his authority had typically been run by "farmers and freemasons". Councillor Chris Haywood (Lib Dem) believed many people were still reluctant to admit to being freemasons.
But councillor Albert Cook (Ind) said: "I don't think people should have to declare if they are members. I was asked to join but I didn't. I was a magistrate for 28 years."
Freemason Phil Daniel (Cons) said he was not sure if it was in the public interest to report he was a member. He added: "So far as I am concerned the only secrecy is how the meetings are conducted and I do not see that there is any need for outsiders to know every little detail of the proceedings".
But councillor Andrew Eastman (Cons) said he was a proud freemason, not least because of the brethren's extensive charitable work.
On the other hand, Torridge leader James Morrish said the
question had "upset" councillors.
Ken Miles, solicitor at Torridge District Council, said all councillors at all authorities were subject to the same requirements to disclose interests. One such requirement, he said, was to declare membership of certain types of organisations, including the freemasons.
The councils' registers of members of interests are available for any elector to view during normal office hours and are kept under review.