County councillors challenged to reveal their links to secret societies | Feb 15, 2012

COUNTY councillors have been challenged to reveal their membership of private organisations such as the Freemasons.

Shire Hall Lib Dem group leader Jeremy Hilton (Westgate) called on all members to declare their interests publicly after a report about the Cotswold Water Park scandal highlighted the issue.

Last month Graham Garbutt, who wrote the report, highlighted failures in the council’s systems, including confusion among members over whether to declare their membership to “secret societies”.

Mr Hilton said connections to networking organisations such as the Freemasons could influence matters of public interest.

“This report has highlighted some serious concerns,” he said. “I am, therefore, calling for it to be made a standard procedure that both officers and all elected members have a duty to declare that they are or have been members of secret societies like the Freemasons.

“Graham Garbutt’s report brings to light the need for more transparency and tighter scrutiny procedures within Shire Hall. In my view, this needs to start happening now.”

The Freemasons are a worldwide fraternity dedicated to charitable works. However, members usually keep their links to the organisation secret and carry out meetings in private in a ritualised format.

There are five Freemasons serving on Gloucestershire County Council, all of them are in the Conservative group.

They are councillors Brian Tipper (Cam and Dursley), Chaz Fellows (Chalford), Stan Waddington (Minchinhampton), Terry Glastonbury (West Dean) and David Cooksley (Lydney).

Each of them has declared the membership on the register of interests, in line with the authority’s policy.

Mr Tipper said Mr Hilton’s suggestion was unnecessary.

“I resent the way the Freemasons are being presented as a secret society,” he said.

“We do a lot of charitable work and we do it in a modest way, so those who benefit don’t know who has done it.

“All council members are well aware of the rules and I’m sure all of them who are members of such groups have already declared it.”

Mr Garbutt is the independent author of a report being drawn up about Shire Hall’s dealings with the Cotswold Water Park.

At an audit committee meeting last month he presented an interim verbal report, stating that his final report would include recommendations about declarations of interest relating to secret societies.

An investigation was called for after the £660,000 fraud carried out by Cotswold Water Park Ltd’s chief executive Dennis Grant.

Conservatives yesterday accused Mr Hilton of carrying out a stunt to get his name in the paper.

Council leader Councillor Mark Hawthorne (C, Moreland) said: “There’s nothing confusing about the rules on declaration of councillor’s interests.

“All councillors are required to publicly declare on their register of interests if they are members of the Freemason’s Grand Charity – which Conservatives councillors have always rigorously followed.

“I think there is cause for concern if the Liberal Democrats are admitting that they do not understand the rules that apply on this important issue.”

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