The British Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) is to investigate Wiltshire Police's handling of a claim of child sexual abuse that was made about the former British prime Minister Ted Heath, who died in 2005.
The probe was launched following allegations that were made about the force's handing of the original investigation, which dates to the 1990s.
The complaint is understood to have been made by a retired senior police officer. Wiltshire Police is now appealing for anyone who thinks they might have been a victim to come forward.
Tory millionaire Heath, a lifelong bachelor, always refused to comment on his sexuality, but it was widely rumoured that he was homosexual.
It was even claimed that as a young politician he was once warned by the Metropolitan Police after being caught 'cottaging' - soliciting for gay sex with strangers - but the claims were never substantiated.
However, the allegations about child abuse are completely new. An IPCC spokesman said: "It is alleged that a criminal prosecution was not pursued when a person threatened to expose that Sir Edward Heath may have been involved in offences concerning children.
"In addition to this allegation, the IPCC will examine whether Wiltshire Police subsequently took any steps to investigate these claims."
A Wiltshire Police spokesman said: "Following the announcement regarding an independent investigation by the IPCC into allegations concerning how Wiltshire Police handled an alleged claim of child sex abuse made in the 1990s, we are carrying out inquiries to identify if there are any witnesses or victims who support the allegations of child sex abuse.
"Sir Edward Heath has been named in relation to offences concerning children. He lived in Salisbury for many years and we would like to hear from anyone who has any relevant information that may assist us in our inquiries or anyone who believes they may have been a victim.
"If there is evidence of offences having been committed we will ensure that, if possible, those responsible are held to account through a thorough and detailed investigation. This includes any other parties who are identified as having been involved in child sex abuse."
Heath was leader of the Conservative Party from 1965 to 1975 and was Britain's prime minister between 1970 and 1974.
He retired from Parliament in 2001 and died four years later in 2005.
Wiltshire Police and Crime Commissioner Angus Macpherson said: "Wiltshire Police referred the allegations to the Independent Police Complaints Commission and advised my office of the referral.
"The progress of this investigation has been monitored by my office at every stage and I am satisfied that the necessary momentum and engagement with the IPCC has been maintained by Wiltshire Police since the information was received.
"It is important that the IPCC investigation is given full co-operation. I will be watching closely to see if any evidence of corruption or poor practice is uncovered.
"My priority as commissioner is to put the interests of victims at the heart of everything we do, as well as holding the force to account.
"We have often seen from high-profile national cases that victims who have not spoken of their abuse for many years find their voice and speak out."
He added: "I would like to encourage any victims, or anyone with information which could help the investigation, to have the confidence and courage to come forward."
The Labour MP Tom Watson claimed that he received information in 2012 relating to allegations of child abuse involving Heath.
He said: "A separate claim concerning Heath was made to me subsequently. I passed them both to the police, who have confirmed to me that at least one of those allegations is being investigated and taken seriously."
The Sir Edward Heath Charitable Foundation said: "We welcome the investigation by Wiltshire Police, which we wholeheartedly believe will clear Sir Edward's name and we will co-operate fully with the police in their inquiries."
Heath, who led the Conservative government between 1970 and 1974, never married and was famously reticent about his private life.
One biographer concluded that he may have been a latent or repressed homosexual, while another thought he was "pretty well sexless".
Away from politics, Heath was noted for his enthusiasm for sailing his yacht and classical music.
He died at home in Salisbury, aged 89, in July 2005. (© Daily Telegraph, London)
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