UK News

Former Tory PM Heath would be questioned over rape allegations if he were alive

Former British prime minister Edward Heath at the 1984 Tory Party Conference in Brighton
By Rod Minchin, Claire Hayhurst and Scott D'Arcy, Press Association

Former Conservative prime minister Sir Edward Heath would be questioned over allegations that he raped and indecently assaulted boys as young as 10 were he alive today, a controversial police report has said.

A Wiltshire Police investigation, called Operation Conifer, concluded that seven of the claims would have been sufficiently credible to justify questioning Sir Edward, who was prime minister between 1970 and 1974, under caution.

The report does not address the question of Sir Edward's guilt or innocence because the remit of the two-year £1.5 million inquiry was to see whether there was enough evidence to interview the former MP for Bexley, who died at home in Salisbury in July 2005, aged 89.

Friends of Sir Edward branded the report "profoundly unsatisfactory" and said a "cloud of suspicion" hangs over him.

While Lord Macdonald QC, a former director of public prosecutions, accused police of "covering their backs" at the expense of a man who can no longer defend himself.

The 100-page "summary closure report" details 42 allegations made against Sir Edward and categorises them as:

:: Seven alleged victims whose accounts would warrant interviewing him under caution

:: Nineteen cases where Sir Edward would not have been interviewed under caution because of the extent of undermining evidence

:: Ten cases of third-party disclosures

:: Three cases of mistaken identity

:: Three complaints made anonymously.

Sir Edward was the most high-profile political figure to be linked to child sex abuse allegations that swept across Westminster.

A raft of politicians from across the spectrum have been accused of abusing children, including Liberal Democrat Sir Cyril Smith and Labour peer and former MP Lord Janner.

The report reveals that most of the alleged victims were boys aged 11 to 15 and the allegations date from 1961, when Sir Edward was in the Macmillan government, to 1992, when he was in his 70s.

None of the allegations for which Sir Edward would have been questioned relate to when he was prime minister.

But two of the alleged offences covered the period when Sir Edward was in Downing Street, although they did not meet the formal interview threshold.

Operation Conifer was launched in 2015 after Sir Edward was named as a suspect in an investigation into historical child sex abuse. Police have not found any evidence to suggest "opportunities were missed" to investigate him while alive.

The inquiry has proven controversial ever since it began when a senior police officer made a television appeal outside Sir Edward's former stately home, Arundells, urging potential victims to come forward.

Last year, the probe found no evidence that a prosecution against brothel-keeper Myra Ling-Ling Forde was dropped because of threats to allege publicly that Sir Edward had been involved in sexual offences.

Wiltshire Chief Constable Mike Veale defended launching Operation Conifer but he said he did not believe there was a need for a judge-led review of the allegations.

"There have been many views expressed as to whether the police should investigate alleged offences committed by a deceased suspect," he said.

"I believe this was the right moral, ethical and professional thing to do, but I appreciate that every case needs to be judged on its own merits.

"Sir Edward Heath was an extremely prominent, influential and high-profile person who was arguably one of the most powerful people in the world commensurate with the political office he held.

"The allegations against him were of the utmost seriousness and from a significant number of people.

"I hope people will understand that, given these circumstances, it would be an indefensible dereliction of my public duty as a chief constable not to have investigated such serious allegations against a former prime minister, even though he is deceased.

"I recognise that this investigation, the findings and the summary closure report may raise further questions.

"But I also believe it signals a watershed moment for people and victims who have suggested or implied there has been a state cover-up for some senior figures who may have been involved in child sexual abuse."

Mr Veale added the inquiry was "politically sensitive" but denied direct pressure on investigators.

"There's been a huge and significant amount of speculation and misleading commentary in the public domain but specifically there has been no political pressure whatsoever in relation to the conduct and delivery of the outcomes of this investigation," he said.

Lincoln Seligman (67), an artist, called for a judge to examine the allegations against Sir Edward, who was his godfather.

"I don't like to see such an injustice," he said.

"I think it would be sad for the country to have a prime minister with that sort of cloud hanging over him.

"It suggests that at some point other people were complicit or didn't do their jobs. It has huge implications."

Mr Seligman questioned why the £1.5m report had taken two years and said the appeal for victims had created "an enormous workload" for Wiltshire Police.

He said the accusations were not one person's word against another's, but rather "one person's word hanging in the ether".

Two witnesses told Operation Conifer that Sir Edward was sexually active with consenting adults during parts of his life.

Sir Edward has been described as "completely asexual" and Mr Seligman described sex as something that "was not on his radar".

"He never talked about women or men in that way. It was just not of interest to him," he added.

North Wiltshire MP James Gray called for a judge-led inquiry and the allegations to be fully investigated, saying he would be writing to the home secretary and prime minister about the matter.

"This is a terrible cloud hanging over the head of a great statesman and we should take steps as a government to put that right," he said.

He estimated that the cost of a judge examining the allegations would be "thousands of pounds".

"I think justice is a priceless commodity," he said.

"There is no evidence that any crime has been committed."

Angus Macpherson, police and crime commissioner for Wiltshire and Swindon, said calls for Mr Veale to resign or be sacked were "fundamentally misjudged".

Operation Conifer was carried out by Wiltshire Police on behalf of 14 police forces.

Home secretary Amber Rudd has agreed to pay £1.1 million towards the total cost of the investigation.

No requests have been made to the investigation team for disclosure of material to support formal civil litigation proceedings against Sir Edward.

However, the investigation was approached by the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority to provide information in relation to two separate claims.

Enjoy reading the Irish News?

Become a subscriber and get full access

Today's horoscope

Horoscope


See a different horoscope: