Police would have quizzed ex Prime Minister Heath over seven child sex allegations, report
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.
None of the allegations about which Wiltshire Police would have questioned Sir Edward relate to when he was prime minister, the force said.
The Crown Prosecution Service has a policy of not making a charging decision on a suspect who is dead because they cannot be prosecuted.
The allegations Sir Edward would have been questioned over include rape of a boy aged 11, indecent assault of a 10-year-old boy and the indecent assault of a 15-year-old boy during three "paid sexual encounters", and are said to have occurred between 1961 and 1992 in the Met Police, Kent, Sussex, the Channel Islands and Wiltshire force areas.
Lord Hunt of Wirral, chairman of the Sir Edward Heath Charitable Foundation, and Lord Armstrong of Ilminster, former Cabinet Secretary, said in a statement: "The Wiltshire Police report is profoundly unsatisfactory because it neither justifies nor dispels the cloud of suspicion."
The report concluded: "The SIO concluded that there is sufficient suspicion to have interviewed Sir Edward Heath under criminal caution regarding his suspected involvement in child sexual abuse.
"This conclusion relates to seven of the 42 disclosures that were considered by the Operation Conifer investigation."
The report stressed that "no inference of guilt" should be made from the fact he would have faced questioning.
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;
- 19 cases where Sir Edward would not have been interviewed under caution because of the extent of undermining evidence;
- 10 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 political spectrum have been accused of abusing children, including ex-home secretary Leon Brittan, former Conservative MP Harvey Proctor, 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 lord privy seal in the Macmillan government to 1992, when he was in his 70s.
Operation Conifer was launched in 2015 after Sir Edward was named as a suspect in an investigation into historical child sex abuse.
Friends and colleagues of Sir Edward have said he was "completely asexual" and the child sex abuse allegations were "totally uncharacteristic and unlikely".
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.
That officer, Superintendent Sean Memory, has since been signed off work on long-term sick leave.
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.
In November, Dr Rachel Hoskins, who was enlisted by detectives to examine evidence, said she had "exposed a catalogue of fabrication" at the heart of the probe and warned the force it should immediately end its investigation into a key accuser's "pernicious" claims of satanic ritual abuse.
In a statement following the report's release, Wiltshire Chief Constable Mike Veale said officers have "gone where the evidence has taken us", whether it supported the allegations or not.
He said: "The report does not draw any conclusions as to the likely guilt or innocence of Sir Edward Heath.
"I am satisfied there are compelling and obvious reasons to investigate allegations made against Sir Edward Heath."
He added that it would be an "indefensible dereliction" of his duties not to investigate those allegations.
The report revealed that there was "reason to suspect" two people may have "intentionally misled" the police by alleging that they were abused by Sir Edward.
"In the case of one of these disclosures, a live criminal investigation remains ongoing," the report states.
"In the case of the other, a criminal investigation was undertaken and an individual was formally cautioned for an offence of wasting police time after they admitted that they had misled the investigation by making three separate disclosures, where they had purported to be three different people."
Eight of the alleged offences covered the period when Sir Edward was prime minister, although none of those met the formal interview threshold.
Mr Veale said he did not believe there was a need for a judge-led review of the allegations.
"At this time I have heard no compelling reasons for such a review, therefore I'm not persuaded to follow this course of action," he said.
"This would neither provide value for money nor provide a legitimate outcome on the guilt or innocence of Sir Edward Heath."
He also said it was a "watershed moment" for those who made claims of a cover-up, with the investigation team concluding there was no evidence.
The report said three people were arrested in connection with the allegations, with two released without charge and one under investigation.
But it said: "There was insufficient evidence gathered to implicate anyone, either connected to Sir Edward Heath or otherwise, in criminal offences related to child abuse or any related cover-up."
Mr Veale said: "I recognised that Operation Conifer had the potential to damage confidence in Wiltshire Police, a force that I am proud of, and which has a commendable and strong reputation.
"This damage, I believed, would be due to the views held by some about investigating allegations concerning deceased individuals.
"There have been many views expressed as to whether the police should investigate alleged offences committed by a deceased suspect.
"Notwithstanding the guidance, 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.
"I am satisfied that there were compelling and obvious reasons to investigate allegations made about Sir Edward Heath.
"As I have said, 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."
Mr Veale went on: "Throughout this investigation I have been very clear that Wiltshire Police will be as open and transparent as possible, in line with our requirement for the police to remain accountable to the public.
"The public should be able to judge the leadership of such high-profile operations based upon the merits and quality of the investigation that has taken place, and not misleading speculation, rumour and inaccurate conjecture.
"It will now be a matter for others to evaluate and decide what steps should be taken in relation to the Operation Conifer findings.
"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.
"As many people will know, the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse was set up in March 2015 by the then home secretary, now Prime Minister, Theresa May.
"The inquiry was clear from the outset that it was required to identify the extent to which state or non-state institutions have failed in their duty of care to protect children from child sexual abuse.
"I particularly welcome their focus upon allegations of institutional cover-up and conspiracy and they will review the inadequacies of law enforcement responses to these allegations.
"In light of this, the legitimacy and legality of this investigation is more relevant and crucial today than ever before.
"The public interest in this case is clear and unequivocal. The statutory responsibility as the chief constable to have conducted this investigation, without fear or favour, I trust is now obvious to all."
Mr Veale added: "I want to send a specific message to those who have come forward as part of this investigation.
"I know it takes bravery and courage to do so. I hope that you feel we have listened to you, taken you seriously, and you have been treated with dignity and respect.
"People who are victims of abuse in the past, now or in the future, should be reassured.
"Reassured by the way in which Wiltshire Police has listened to victims and survivors and reassured that no matter who the alleged perpetrator of abuse is, we will take your allegations seriously. We will investigate, no matter how difficult that may be."