A Firm in a Firm: Freemasonry and Police Corruption
Is a Brother off the track?
Try the Square;
Try it well on every side.
Nothing draws a craftsman back
Like the Square when well applied.
Try the Square.
Is he crooked, is he frail?
Try the Square;
Try it early, try it late;
When all other efforts fail,
Try the Square to make him straight –
Try the Square.(1)
Since the Metropolitan Police was founded in 1829 there have been two complete reorganizations of its detective department. Both were provoked by massive corruption scandals leading to criminal trials exactly one hundred years apart, in 1877 and 1977. In each scandal Freemasonry played a dominant role.
Scotland Yard’s first ‘Detective Force’ was set up in 1842. It consisted of only two inspectors and six sergeants. By 1869, 180 detectives were dealing with minor crime in outlying divisions but serious investigations in London were left to only twenty-seven officers out of 9,000. In the 1870’s most of this squad was itself a criminal conspiracy in which not only were the prime culprits Freemasons; Freemasonry was what brought them together.(2)
In 1872 a confience trickster names William Kurr was running a bogus betting operation. Like any shrewd smalltime criminal with big ideas, he saw that the way to make real money was to bring policemen into the racket. Bribing detectives after you get caught is costly and uncertain. Far better to cut them in on the profits beforehand and avoid arrest altogether. The one safe place where Kurr could proposition policemen was his Masonic lodge.
At a lodge meeting in Islington Kurr made friends with just the man: Inspector John Meikeljohn. In return for 100 Pounds – nearly half his annual pay – Meiklejohn agreed to give Kurr advance warning of any police action against him or his betting racket. At first the corrupt officer kept the payoff to himself but as the racket expanded, he involved three chief inspectors in the Detective Force whom he also knew as brother Masons.
Kurr needed bigger and better protection because he was expanding his operation with the skills of a new friend called Harry Benson. Here was a virtoso con-man of international disrepute. In 1872, posing as a French count, he had deluded the Lord Mayor of London into giving him 1,000 Pounds for relief work in the wake of the Franco-Prussian War. He was found out and imprisoned in Newgate where he tried to burn himself to death. Instead he merely crippled himself but in 1873 he hobbled out of jail and came to know Kurr. Together they planned new scams to part mug punters from their funds.
One by one, Inspector Meiklejohn sucked his Masonic colleagues into Kurr and Benson’s network. First he found out that Chief Inspector Nathaniel Druscovitch was inquiring into the swindles. He also discovered Druscovitch was 60 Pounds in debt and suggested Kurr might help him out. The deal was done, Kurr gave him the money and Druscovitch ws neutralized. His senior chief inspector, George Clarke, wsa also on the swindlers trail, but he agreed to lose the scent in return for a pay-off. A third chief inspector, William Palmer, was also bought up.
Now assured of total immunity from police zeal, Benson set up Sport, a news-sheet offering punters foolproof betting systems. In 1876, using the alias Hugh Montgomery, he deluded the Comtesse de Goncourt of Paris into ‘investing’ 10,000 Pounds. He rewarded here with several non-existant winners and then requested she invest a further 30,000 Pounds with a bookmaker of his choice. At this point she had a belated spasm of suspicion. She hired a London lawyer, who reported Benson and Kurr to Scotland Yard. They were soon jailed for fifteen and ten years’ hard labour respectively. Only then did they reveal the role of the bent coppers. In the subsequent investigation the Yard’s chief of detectives, Supt. Frederick Williamson, was dismayed to discover that three of his four chief inspectors were corrupt, along with their uninformed seducer, Meiklejohn. In 1877 all four were tried at the Old Bailey. Clarke was acquittted, but Meiklejohn, Palmer and Druscovitch were convicted and sentenced to two years’ hard labour. It was a bad day for the police and hardly a distinguished one for Freemasonry with its principals of brotherly love, relief and truth.
This scandal discredited the entire Metropolitan Detective Force which was scrapped and re-formed as the Criminal Investigation Department. The CID was to have a seperate career structure and higher rates of pay than the main uniform force, a distinction which was to cause grinding irritation over the next hundred years. By 1884 the new structure of twenty-four detectives at Scotland Yard and 254 in the divisions, all under the central command of a new Assistant Commissioner (Crime), appeared to be an effective answer to corruption, Masonic or otherwise.
It took a hundred years for that illusion to be pricked, although close observers of the CID had known the truth for decades. A hint of what went wrong in the meantime comes in the story of Chief Inspector Reginald Morrish, a Metropolitan officer from 1911 to 1937. Morrish worked in the CID for sixteen years, winning forty-four commendations and eighteen awards. He also served in Scotland Yard’s fraud and homicide squads. From 1943 to 197 he was a senior instructor at Hendon Police College and wrote several textbooks. One book he did not write was an autobiography. Not long before he died, aged ninety-two, he burnt his entire police papers. His son Ivor was horrified. He wrote: