During the investigation, the team leader referred to a strong Masonic contingent in the enforcement division and “strange decisions” made by his enforcement colleagues.The story prompted an outraged response from United Grand Lodge of England media spokesman and serving magistrate Chris Connop, who dismissed the story as “anti-Masonic innuendo”. But the tapes also led IFA Defence Union chief Evan Owen to issue a freedom of information act request to the regulator, demanding it publish a list of Freemasons on its staff. Owen argued that disclosure would avoid any potential conflicts of interest but the request was thrown out by the FSA. This is not the first time that such requests have been made in relation to the Freemasons and alleged connections with other organisations. In 2001, members of the General Medical Council were forced to reveal membership of the Freemasons in the register of interests amid accusations that it could have an impact on their decisions in conduct cases. In 2004, the Standards Board for England included a clause in its code of conduct ruling that local councillors must declare membership of the Freemasons under their list of charitable activities. Connop, a Freemason for the past 20 years, asserts that the organisation has “nothing to hide” and that it is thoroughly “fed up with innuendo”. Owen, who says his approach has upset the Freemasons in his membership, freely admits that not knowing how relevant a situation it would be if there were Freemasons in the FSA but he adds: “If we are dealing with a regulator, we would like to know what we are dealing with.” FSA spokesman Rod McIvor asserts that the regulator has no reason or legal right to ask staff what they do in their spare time and have no intention to start doing so. McIvor says if somebody were to bring some evidence of untoward activities on the part of any member of the FSA then it would obviously take them very seriously and appropriate action would be taken. He says: “I am afraid simply because Evan Owen thinks there is a problem is not a reason for the FSA to take action. Perhaps somebody has met an FSA staff member who has given them a funny handshake because their hand is so tired of having to do all the box-ticking we have to do.” The Freemasons say it is not and never has been a secret society but there was a period when the organisation did become “secretive”. Up until the late 1930s, the group was a totally open set, explains Connop, but with the rise of dictators in Eastern Europe, particularly Hitler, who sent Freemasons to concentration camps, they were forced underground and after the war ended the Freemasons rem- ained under ground for some time. As a result, many misconceptions emerged over the decades and Connop admits the group essentially “shot itself in the foot.” He says: “People were making accusations and the Grand Lodge was not making any replies. During those 40 years, the mythology became the reality in peoples’ minds.” But Owen’s contention is that the trouble with any of these type of organisations the further they rise up the hierarchy, the more secretive and more suspicious their activities become. Connop strongly disputes this. He says the Masons’ membership consists of people from all walks of life, from Tube workers to financiers and from a variety of religious faiths. Connop says: “There are many ways that people could be seen to be using a membership for ill-gotten gains, why should it just be Freemasons that are targeted with these suspicions. “Individuals have to want to join for right reasons, if they think they are going to join for financial or professional benefit, then we will not touch them with a bargepole. There have been this sort in the past but I find they are getting fewer and fewer, they will not get past the interview. You make a promise when you come into the Freemasons that you will never ever use your position for personal or mutual financial gain.” The Freemasons co-operate with the Local Government Ombudsman and, according to Connop, there have not been any complaints for about three years now. He notes that over the course of around six years, within the thousands of complaints made to the ombudsman, only 28 referred to Freemasonry. And of those 28, says Connop (according to figures from 2000/2001), they found three cases of mismanagement where Freemasons had not declared their membership when they should have done and disciplinary action was taken. But what are the Freemasons about? For one, any discussion of religion or politics at Freemason meetings is strictly banned.”Politics and religion tear people apart whereas Freemasonry brings people together,” says Connop. The first condition of membership is a belief in a “supreme being” but there is never any discussion as to what the “supreme being” is. Like many clubs, to join a member has to be proposed and seconded and be at least 21 years old. The three pillars in Freemasonry are: Brotherly Love (Fellowship), Relief (Charity) and Truth. The latter is often the most difficult to explain to those who are not Freemasons, notes Connop. He says: “That is the integrity and morality part. We want to be sure our members are decent people. “There is also that feeling that you are contributing in some way to society – we give an enormous amount to charity, we do not just support our own.” But Owen remains unconvinced and describes the Freemasons as “the biggest pyramid-selling racket I have ever seen. The guys at the top make a lot of money.” However, Connop says: “We as Freemasons are proud to be members. We do not have any issue with declaration per se but we do object to be singled out because we consider that to be discriminatory.” So how many Freemasons are on the FSA’s payroll? “No idea,” says Connop.
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