What I really needed at the outset of my investigation into Masonry in the police was a masonic 'mole' who was a policeman of rank and integrity. Eventually, as has been shown, I built up a large network of such men. None was so earnest or more scathing than those contacts, Masons and otherwise, who spoke to me about Birmingham City Police.
One informant spoke of his experiences in Birmingham dating back many years. He was on the point of entering the first of the three chairs of his Holy Royal Arch Chapter. He had, he told me, been considering becoming a Knight Templar, the branch of Freemasonry which admits only Christians, but was becoming increasingly disillusioned with the abuse of Masonry within the police and had come to realize that he had to resign from one or the other.
He explained that in Birmingham City Police before the reorganization of police forces in England and Wales, it was next to impossible for non-Masons to reach any rank above Chief Inspector. The then Chief Constable, Sir Derrick Capper, was an officer of the Warwickshire Provincial Grand Lodge, and he saw to it as far as possible that non-Masons were kept to the lower and middle ranks. In Capper's time, according to my informant, it was impossible to be a civilian employee at higher level unless you were a Mason. This became the accepted way of life.
In 1974 Birmingham City Police was amalgamated with other nearby forces to become West Midlands Police. My informant continued, 'The old masonic system still pertains within the Birmingham City area. Within the wider scope of West Midlands, which now includes places like Coventry and Wolverhampton, it does not pertain. But in the City area there is not one of the divisional commanders or their deputies who is not a Freemason.'
I pressed him about his motive for talking to me. He replied, 'I've always been conscious of democracy and I just don't see why many good men who joined with me have never reached the same rank as me because they have the misfortune not to be Freemasons.'
I felt there must be something closer to home. If he had been an active Freemason for ten years, as he had told me, he must have been aware for a long time that the existence of Masonry in the police could put non-Masons at a disadvantage. I put the point to him.
'I've had to rack myself recently as to whether I'm going to stay in the job,' he said, 'or abandon Masonry. I don't find them compatible at all.
'In theory, Masons are not supposed to show favour to a man just because he's a Mason. But in practice it doesn't work that way at all. You go to a London Lodge where the Met Police meet, and the next promotions in every department are discussed. It's the same in Birmingham. You cannot possibly rise in the CID, for instance, in the old Birmingham City area, which is a considerable area, unless you're in a Lodge. And it even has to be the right Lodge. The centre of it all is the Masonic Temple at 1 Clarendon Road, Edgbaston.'
But wasn't there something more particular?
'Yes. I'm not finding it particularly good having colleagues in my rank and the two above me getting promoted
because they are Masons. I don't see that it's necessary as a criterion for promotion that you're from a masonic Lodge. I'd rather have the men who qualify and get there by hard work. I have two deputies, both promoted because they're Masons. They really are shockers at their job. I suddenly realized they would never have got there if they hadn't been Masons, and that worried me considerably. That's why I'm speaking to you.'
A Birmingham Detective Chief Inspector, also a Mason who wished to remain anonymous, contacted me on 10 October 1981. He said he would try to write but probably would not. In the event he didn't and that one conversation is the only contact I had with him. Even so, he impressed me as genuine and in the light of the information given by .my first informant, whose identity I do know, the DCI's conflicting comments should be noted.
He said, 'I'm not an avid Mason. I joined when I was doing a two-year stint at Scotland Yard. I was in a big town where nobody talks to you and I was lonely. I'd been along to a Ladies' Night* at a friend's masonic Lodge and been impressed with the really genuine people there. So I decided to join.
'I didn't join the Masons until I reached my present rank, so it wasn't Freemasonry that got me there. It's sheer hard work that gets you promotion, whatever non-Masons tell you. I had a lad in my department just a while ago who was transferred into uniform because he had transgressed. He was a Mason. It just doesn't make any difference. All this talk of allegiance to two masters is based on ignorance.
'I once met a retired Detective Chief Inspector in Birmingham. He was a good policeman. He'd have rated a Detective Chief Superintendent today.
*Most Lodges hold a Ladies' Night once a year. It is the only occasion when women (wives, daughters or girl friends) are permitted at a gathering of brethren.
I met him wandering aimlessly around the streets of the city. His wife had died, he had lost all drive, he was not looking after himself properly. His clothes were patched, he had nothing to live for. I bought him a drink and we talked. He sounded hopeless. Some years later when I had joined the Masons I saw him again - at a Lodge meeting. It had been the making of him. Someone had bumped into him just as I had done, and, being a Mason, had pointed him in the right direction. He was smart, enthusiastic about life, a completely changed man, very enthusiastic about Masonry. Freemasonry alone had given him a reason for living, and that's quite something.'
Quite something indeed. But few people would deny that there are many men, women and children in the world who benefit directly and indirectly from Freemasonry. The movement's contributions to charity, and the work of the Royal Masonic Hospital and the Masonic schools are examples of how non-Masons as well as Masons benefit from the existence of the Brotherhood. This good, and there are other examples, as will become apparent, should not be taken lightly. But neither should it be seen as an answer to those aspects of Masonry which are alleged to be bad. 'The good justifies the bad' is as dangerous a philosophy as 'The end justifies the means'.
But to return to Birmingham, one other masonic policeman who has seen no harm come from so many police officers swearing allegiance to the Brotherhood is former Superintendent David Webb, well known for his championing of 'community policing' in the Birmingham ghetto districts. He resigned from the police in December 1981 and spoke to me shortly after.
'In the City of Birmingham there are hundreds of' policemen who are members of Freemasonry,' he said, 'including plenty of divisional commanders. I am a Past Master of more than one Lodge.
'I can honestly say that in the police service I've never found anyone that's ever tried to use Masonry - just the opposite. Amongst the policemen that I know in Masonry, if anyone tried that bloody game on, he'd get clonked well and truly. It's never gained me anything.'
However, hearing various allegations about Birmingham which had been reported to me by informers, he said, 'I'm not saying it doesn't happen, the same as when I say to people about police beating people up. I don't say it doesn't happen, but I've never experienced it.'
A Birmingham Chief Inspector, another Mason, said, 'Policemen are very isolated socially. I'll admit that my whole life, because I'm a Mason in a police Lodge, is tied up with the same people. There is a lot of jiggery-pokery among police Masons in Birmingham, I don't mind saying as long as you won't quote me on it. But I doubt if it's any better anywhere else. There's nothing specially bad about Birmingham, it's a good force. The worry is that if I know about one or two of my colleagues who are involved in one or two little - let's say, they've got some fingers in a few pies they shouldn't have—'
'You mean corruption?'
'No, nothing like that. Just involvements outside the force. Certain people they don't arrest for certain things. The worry is that as a Mason policeman myself, if I report them I will put my whole work and social life in jeopardy, all my friendships and work relationships will be at stake. So it's better to say nothing. That's the only problem with Masonry. You can get too involved.'