Police in the UK are to face an investigation over whether the Freemasons influenced a massive cover-up at the time of the Hillsborough disaster in 1989 in which 96 people were crushed to death at a football match between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest at Hillsborough Stadium.
Families of victims say that officers who belonged to the secret society were promoted into positions of power and influence, despite being unqualified for the jobs, including match commander David Duckenfield.
Duckenfield told the fresh inquests he had been a Freemason since 1975 and became head of his local lodge – a worshipful master – the year after the 1989 disaster.
He was forced to admit that he had no experience of policing football, did not know Hillsborough and ‘wasn’t the best man for the job’ – but was still promoted in the weeks before the tragedy.
There was fury among colleagues who believed it was his freemasons membership that was behind his promotion.
When asked during the inquest of was influenced by his membership of the so-called ‘secret society’, but added: ‘I would hope not.’
His predecessor Brian Mole, now dead, had also been a member of the same lodge, jurors were told.
The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), as part of its overall investigation into alleged criminality and misconduct, has examined concerns from the Hillsborough families over Freemason membership.
The United Grand Lodge of England has provided information including historical attendance records of meetings.
This has enabled investigators to assess whether there may be some correlation with individuals involved in decision-making around Hillsborough, according to the IPCC.
The hearings in Warrington also heard evidence from a police constable who said he had heard ‘a substantial meeting’ of senior officers, including allegedly Mr Duckenfield, took place in the days after the disaster.
The officer said it was rumoured that most of the officers were Masons and it was said they were trying to blame Superintendent Roger Marshall for asking for the exit gate at Leppings Lane to be opened.
Coroner Sir John Goldring later warned the jury that there was ‘not a shred of evidence’ that such a meeting ever took place or that all of those named were Freemasons. He advised them to put the ‘gossip and hearsay’ to one side.
Giving evidence, Mr Duckenfield said he was unaware if his boss, Chief Constable Peter Wright, was also a Freemason.
He said: ‘I can’t say whether he was or he wasn’t. What I am saying is within my knowledge in the whole of the Sheffield/Yorkshire area, and in my lodge, he certainly wasn’t a Freemason, and it wasn’t customary in those days, because a situation had arisen where it was unfashionable, or some people thought unacceptable, to be a Freemason in a senior police position.’
Freemasonry is one of the world’s oldest and largest non-religious, non-political, fraternal and charitable organisations, according to the United Grand Lodge of England’s website.
It adds that ‘it teaches self-knowledge through participation in a progression of ceremonies’ and ‘is a society of men concerned with moral and spiritual values’.
David Duckenfield, who is believed to be in Portugal, said Liverpool supporters had smashed through a closed gate before kick-off, causing the crush, when in fact he had ordered it to be left open to ease congestion.
It was only 26 years later, having retired on a gold-plated police pension, that he was forced to admit this was the ‘direct cause’ of the tragedy and that he had lied to save his own skin.
Today the inquest found that his decision had caused or contributed to their deaths – and also meant that they were all unlawfully killed.
In 2000 the families of the dead brought a private manslaughter prosecution against Duckenfield, but a jury failed to reach a verdict. The Crown Prosecution Service could again choose to prosecute him after today’s verdicts.
Today, as the damning verdicts were read out, the match commander was not at the hearing and neighbours said the retired golf fan was last seen at home on the edge of the New Forest over the weekend.