The leader of the Freemasons in England has rejected claims the organisation is blocking reform in the police service.
Dave Staples, chief executive of the United Grand Lodge of England, said it was “laughable” to suggest Freemasons were interfering with its culture.
Earlier this week, former leader of the Police Federation Steve White accused Freemasons of preventing women and minority groups from progressing.
Dr Staples insisted Freemasons had a history of treating people “as equals”.
He wrote to The Times and Guardian to deny allegations the organisation was blocking reforms intended to encourage women, black people and those from ethnic minority groups to become national representatives in the federation, which represents rank-and-file officers in England and Wales.
He said Freemasons themselves were “quite openly discriminated against” and insisted it was for that reason alone that many Freemasons kept their membership a secret.
In his letter Dr Staples, who is an NHS clinical director, said Freemasons were “quietly proud” of welcoming people “as equals”.
He said: “The idea that reform within the Police Federation or anywhere else is being actively thwarted by an organised body of Freemasons is laughable”.
He said there was “absolutely no reason” police officers, or people from other walks of life, should not belong to the Freemasons.
Earlier Mr White, who served as chairman from 2014 to 2017, remarked to the BBC and Guardian that a “small pocket of people” had been opposed to the reforms.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Whether it was coincidence or not, I don’t know, but certainly a fairly high proportion – that isn’t reflective of policing – seem to be Freemasons.”
He added: “Even if it wasn’t the case, the perception was damaging.”
In 2014, Theresa May had told the federation to “turn itself around” when she was home secretary, amid accusations of bullying and a lack of transparency in its accounts.