The question of whether Freemason membership influenced decision-making over the Hillsborough disaster has been probed by the police watchdog.

Overall match commander Chief Superintendent David 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 said he did not know if his promotion within South Yorkshire Police in the weeks before the tragedy 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.

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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.

Read more:Freemason cops banned from working on criminal probe into cover-up

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.

Hillsborough football ground
Hillsborough football ground during the disaster

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.

Read more:Jury rule 96 were unlawfully killed but fans not to blame

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.

Aerial view of the Leppings Lane end at Hillsborough
Aerial view of the Leppings Lane end at Hillsborough where the disaster happened

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."

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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".

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