One of my major sources of information was a former Grand Inspector Inquisitor Commander of the Thirty-First Degree of the Ancient and Accepted Rite who had withdrawn from Masonry in 1968 for religious reasons. As with so many other people in the labyrinthine world of Freemasonry, I was led to him by way of a series of contacts. He agreed through a third party to be interviewed by me concerning his conviction that no active Christian could in all conscience remain a Freemason.
When I met him I learned that he was a judge, and a particularly quick-tempered one. Although I had heard of him, I had hitherto known little about him.
We spent a long time talking about Masonry and religion, but after a while I began to ask him about the Ancient and Accepted Rite of the Thirty-Third Degree. He was, after all, only the fourth initiate to the Rite who had agreed to see me. He answered quickly. 'No, I dare not go into that,' he said. 'We'd better stick with religion.' It seemed a perfectly normal answer - I had received many such replies over the months of my investigation. It sounded like the usual rebuff. But I thought immediately afterwards how strange it was that he had used the words 'dare not'. Most people said, 'I'd better not', or 'I'd rather not'. I remarked on his use of the word. He said, 'Anyone in public life has to be cautious.'
'Cautious,' I repeated. 'That's a masonic word of recognition.'
'You've obviously delved into the ritual, so you know,' he said. 'But I mean cautious in the sense everybody understands it.'
'What must you be cautious about?'
'Mr Knight, I don't like this line of questioning. I agreed to speak to you in general terms about why my commitment to Jesus is incompatible with the masonic religion. I do not wish to be drawn into discussion of matters covered by whatever undertakings I have . . . taken.'
'By undertakings, do you mean masonic oaths?'
He paused. 'Yes, I do. I prefer the word obligation to oath. It's not the same.'
I remember thinking as I turned the conversation back on to the track I wanted it to follow that it would be interesting later on to return to this question of the distinction between an obligation and an oath. I never did.
' Why do you have to be cautious, careful?' I said. 'You're not a Mason any more. I've got copies of all the rituals of the 4th to 33rd degree. There is no obligation which could possibly be interpreted to forbid you from telling me what you meant when you used the word "dare" in an ordinary conversation.'
'This isn't about my religious convictions, is it?'
'Many of your former masonic colleagues are very powerful people in this country. Do you think there would be some kind of reprisal if you gave away any secrets?'
'Not of the kind you write about in your book about Jack the Ripper.' He laughed. A bit hollowly, I thought.
'Well, not murder, no, I wouldn't have thought so.' I, too, laughed. I felt oddly embarrassed. 'But there is some kind of reprisal to be feared then? Something more . . . subtle?'
He began to look angry. He had made a slip. 'That was a figure of sp— I was making a joke. A very bad joke.' 'But you said—'
'I know, I know! And I do not believe for one moment that what you suggest in your book has happened in real life - then or ever.'
I could see the rattled ex-Mason automatically slipping back into the practice of a lifetime. Sometimes you shall divert a discourse, and manage it prudently for the honour of the worshipful fraternity. I would not be diverted into defending the evidence and arguments in my first book. I felt I was close to something. I pressed on.
'Leaving murder aside, can I ask you . . .' And then it hit me. 'Can I ask you, as a Christian, have you ever seen at first hand any sort of reprisals carried out by Freemasons using masonic influence against any non-Freemason or anti-Freemason?'
All at once, he seemed to relax, or to somehow collapse into a smaller man as he let all the anger go out of him. 'As a Christian . . .' He paused thoughtfully, and I noticed how very many times he blinked his eyes during this hiatus. I wondered at one point if he was praying for guidance. He drew a long, slow, deep breath. 'As a Christian, I have to tell you that I have never in my whole life witnessed or heard about a single act of hostility by a Freemason or group of Freemasons that was sanctioned by Grand Lodge or Supreme Council.' He looked at me significantly as he laid stress on that qualifying clause. 'There,' he said. 'I have said nothing which betrays my obligations.'
'I have heard from quite a lot of contacts about organized action by groups of Freemasons that have resulted in the financial or social ruin of certain people,' I said.
'So have I,' he said, still looking me straight in the eye as if telling me this was important. 'So have I, Mr Knight.' 'Have you any direct knowledge of such happenings?'
'Not of such happenings which had the backing of official Freemasonry.'
'But of action which was unofficial? In other words, Masons abusing the Craft for their own ends?'
'You know the answer to that, from the way I have said what I have said.'
'I have also heard about people who have "crossed" certain Masons and finished up in prison . . .'
He stopped me in mid-sentence by placing a finger on his lips.
'If I told you everything I know about Freemasonry being betrayed by its members, it would surprise even you,' he said. 'It would make your hair stand on end. I can't tell you any more.' Then, as if it was an afterthought, but I don't believe it was, he said, 'Give me your phone number. You might hear from someone in a few days.'
I gave him the number. 'Who?' I said.
The finger went back to his lips and he went to fetch my coat.
'God bless,' he said as I left, and I ran pell-mell to a sandwich bar in nearby Chancery Lane to scribble down the notes on which this account of our meeting has been based.
Four days later I received a phone call from a man who told me he had seen my advertisement for people with information about Freemasonry in an old copy of the New Statesman*' He said he had read my Jack the Ripper: The Final Solution and would very much like to meet me. I tried, as I tried with all my callers, to get him to say something concrete on the phone, but he would not even tell me whether or not he was a Mason.
*This advertisment had appeared for four weeks in the summer of 1981, some nine months earlier.
I had already received a dozen or so similar calls, some of which had proved useful, some wild goose chases. But the researcher's world is the natural habitat of wild geese and red herrings, and one accepts the necessity of chasing them. Despite his unwillingness to talk - perhaps, in a way, because of it - I arranged to meet him the following Saturday in the vestibule of the Cafe Royal. From there we would go to his club. He said his name was Christopher. Whether this was his Christian name or his surname I didn't know.
When I arrived, he was sitting in the armchair to the right of the fireplace just inside the entrance, smoking a small cigar in a holder and reading that day's Times. He was tall, more than six feet, slim and aged about fifty. Everything about him spoke of affluence, except his plain National Health Service glasses. We went to his club, which he pledged me not to name as it could be used to identify him. It turned out that Christopher was one of his three Christian names and that he was a very senior Civil Servant in Whitehall. He had contacted me, he said, not as a result of seeing the New Statesman advertisement - although he had seen it when it appeared - but at the request of my cautious Christian judge. He asked me what I wanted to know. I said I took it that he was a Freemason. He nodded and took some papers out of his slimline briefcase. He wanted me to be in no doubt as to his bona fides.
After examining the papers I told him I was interested to know what a person might have to fear from a group of influential Freemasons if circumstances made him, for instance, a threat to them in the business world; or if he discovered they were using Masonry for corrupt purposes; or had fallen a victim of their misuse of Freemasonry and would not heed warnings not to oppose them.
'It is not difficult to ruin a man,' he said. 'And I will tell you how it is done time and again. There are more than half a million brethren under the jurisdiction of Grand Lodge.
Standards have been falling for twenty or thirty years. It is too easy to enter the Craft, so many men of dubious morals have joined. The secrecy and power attract such people, and when they come the decent leave. The numbers of people who would never have been considered for membership in the fifties are getting larger all the time. If only five per cent of Freemasons use - abuse - the Craft for selfish or corrupt ends it means there are 25,000 of them. The figure is much closer to twelve or thirteen per cent now.'
It transpired that Christopher was one of a small and unpopular group within Masonry who some time in the early seventies had decided that either they had to get out of the Brotherhood or they had to do something 'to stop the rot' which the blinkered officers of Great Queen Street refused to admit was there. His reason for talking to me was to assure me that the Brotherhood was an essentially good body of men devoted to all that was best in the British social system and which promoted brotherly love and contributed to the wellbeing of the country and to the relief of suffering. He wanted this put firmly across to the public, and his group wanted pressure brought to bear on those in positions of responsibility within the Brotherhood to put Freemasonry's house in order - to institute proper policing, to close down Lodges used for shady dealings and to root out corrupt brethren and expel them. The group -it had no name - also wanted the whole business of masonic secrecy looked into by Grand Lodge, most of them believing that secrecy was more harmful than helpful to Masonry.
Christopher explained that Masonry's nationwide organization of men from most walks of life provided one of the most efficient private intelligence networks imaginable. Private information on anybody in the country could normally be accessed very rapidly through endless permutations of masonic contacts - police, magistrates, solicitors, bank managers, Post Office staff ('very useful in supplying copies of a man's mail'), doctors, government employees, bosses of firms and nationalized industries etc., etc. A dossier of personal data could be built up on anybody very quickly. When the major facts of an individual's life were known, areas of vulnerability would become apparent. Perhaps he is in financial difficulties; perhaps he has some social vice - if married he might 'retain a mistress' or have a proclivity for visiting prostitutes; perhaps there is something in his past he wishes keep buried, some guilty secret, a criminal offence (easily obtainable through Freemason police of doubtful virtue), or other blemish on his character: all these and more could be discovered via the wide-ranging masonic network of 600,000 contacts, a great many of whom were disposed to do favours for one another because that had been their prime motive for joining. Even decent Masons could often be 'conned' into providing information on the basis that 'Brother Smith needs this to help the person involved'. The adversary would even sometimes be described as a fellow Mason to the Brother from whom information was sought -perhaps someone with access to his bank manager or employer. The 'good' Mason would not go to the lengths of checking with Freemasons Hall whether or not this was so. If the 'target' was presented as a Brother in distress by a fellow Mason, especially a fellow Lodge member, that would be enough for any upright member of the Craft.*
Sometimes this information-gathering process - often
*I discovered from other sources that this system has been long established within Masonry for the 'legitimate' purpose of bringing succour to a distressed Brother Mason or to the family of a departed Mason. It is common for details of a Freemason's debts, for instance, to be passed to his Lodge by his masonic bank manager. This 'invasion of privacy' is for no more sinister reason than for his brethren to club together and pay off his debts. This occurs most often after the death of a Mason, but by no means always. And this, apparently, is just one example of the many methods by which Freemasons obtain information about each other for genuine purposes.
involving a long chain of masonic contacts all over the country and possibly abroad - would be unnecessary. Enough would be known in advance about the adversary to initiate any desired action against him.
I asked how this 'action' might be taken.
'Solicitors are very good at it,' said Christopher. 'Get your man involved in something legal - it need not be serious - and you have him.' Solicitors, I was told, are 'past masters' at causing endless delays, generating useless paperwork, ignoring instructions, running up immense bills, misleading clients into taking decisions damaging to themselves.
Masonic police can harass, arrest on false charges, and plant evidence. 'A businessman in a small community or a person in public office arrested for dealing in child pornography, for indecent exposure, or for trafficking in drugs is at the end of the line,' said Christopher. 'He will never work again. Some people have committed suicide after experiences of that kind.'
Masons can bring about the situation where credit companies and banks withdraw credit facilities from individual clients and tradesmen, said my informant. Banks can foreclose. People who rely on the telephone for their work can be cut off for long periods. Masonic employees of local authorities can arrange for a person's drains to be inspected and extensive damage to be reported, thus burdening the person with huge repair bills; workmen carrying out the job can 'find' - in reality cause - further damage. Again with regard to legal matters, a fair hearing is hard to get when a man in ordinary circumstances is in financial difficulties. If he is trying to fight a group of unprincipled Freemasons skilled in using the 'network' it will be impossible because masonic Department of Health and Social Security and Law Society officials (see pp 189-90) can delay applications for Legal Aid endlessly.
'Employers, if they are Freemasons or not, can be given private information about a man who has made himself an enemy of Masonry. At worst he will be dismissed (if the information is true) or consistently passed over for promotion.'
Christopher added, 'Masonic doctors can also be used. But for some reason doctors seem to be the least corruptible men. There are only two occurrences of false medical certificates issued by company doctors to ruin the chances of an individual getting a particular job which I know about. It's not a problem that need greatly worry us like the rest.'
He continued for about half an hour to list examples of the ways in which corrupt members of the Brotherhood could defeat opposition, repeating every few minutes that these kinds of circumstances involved a minority of the brethren and that most would be utterly appalled at even the suggestion that such things were happening, let alone countenance them. That they were happening at all reflected the deterioration of the Craft inasmuch as its entry requirements were no longer stringent enough. Those in power in Freemasons Hall knew something of what went on, but they felt defeated by it and preferred to look the other way rather than take steps to eradicate it. If Christopher and his group failed to force the issue into the open, he said, the organization would become so morally polluted that it would simply cease to exist. But he was not solely concerned with the Brotherhood. It was the victims of those who used Masonry as a source of personal power who had to be helped as well.
'Only the fighters have any hope of beating the system once it's at work against them,' he told me. 'Most people, fighters or not, are beaten in the end, though. It's .. . you see, I. . . you finish up not knowing who you can trust. You can get no help because your story sounds so paranoid that you are thought a crank, one of those nuts who think the whole world is a conspiracy against them. It is a strange phenomenon. By setting up a situation that most people will think of as fantasy, these people can poison every part of a person's life. If they give in they go under. If they don't give in it's only putting off the day because if they fight, so much unhappiness will be brought to the people around them that there will likely come a time when even their families turn against them out of desperation. When that happens and they are without friends wherever they look, they become easy meat. The newspapers will not touch them.
'There is no defence against an evil which only the victims and the perpetrators know exists.'