The Independent Police Complaints Commission will investigate whether Wiltshire police shelved a criminal inquiry after a suspect in another case threatened to expose the former Conservative premier as a paedophile.
Investigators will also attempt to discover whether the force pursued the suspect’s claims against Heath, which were made in the 90s.
Separately, Wiltshire police has reopened its own inquiries into claims of abuse against Heath, who was the prime minister between 1970 and 1974 and lived in Salisbury for many years. He died in 2005 aged 89.
The developments come amid a flurry of historical abuse allegations against prominent figures. The IPCC’s latest inquiry has been triggered by a retired senior officer who served as a constable in Wiltshire police in the 90s.
The watchdog said in a statement: “The IPCC is to investigate allegations that Wiltshire police didn’t pursue a prosecution when a person threatened to say 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.”
The commission will investigate claims that a suspect in a criminal inquiry threatened to expose Heath as a child abuser if pursued for an alleged criminal offence.
Speaking outside Heath’s former home in the grounds of Salisbury cathedral, Supt Sean Memory said: “The allegation is that a trial was due to take place in the 1990s and information was received in that trial that Sir Ted Heath was involved in the abuse of children and the allegation is from the result of that information that the trial never took place.
“A retired senior police officer has come forward towards the end of 2014 indicating that they were aware of this information.”“So between then and March this year we have worked tirelessly to establish the facts of that allegation to a point where in March this year we have made a mandatory referral to the Independent Police Complaints commission who are leading the investigation into whether we did in fact mishandle that case in the 1990s.”
A spokesman for Wiltshire police added: “Following the announcement today 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.”
He confirmed Heath had been “named in relation to offences concerning children”, adding: “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.”
The Labour MP Tom Watson said: “I received information in 2012 concerning allegations of child abuse carried out by Edward Heath and 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.”
There have been repeated allegations of child sexual abuse in the 70s and 80s involving senior politicians and MPs. Ministers have appointed a New Zealand judge, Justice Lowell Goddard, to head an independent inquiry into child abuse, both connected to official institutions and elsewhere. Thousands of victims are being invited to testify.
Separately, the home secretary, Theresa May, has commissioned a review into whether there had been a coverup of the Home Office’s handling of child abuse allegations in the 80s. The report, by Peter Wanless, the chief executive of the NSPCC, concluded that this could not be proven.
The report into 114 missing Home Office files relating to child abuse in the 80s said last year there was no evidence that they were “deliberately or systematically removed or destroyed to cover up organised child abuse”.
“There might have been a coverup,” May said. “I cannot stand here and say the Home Office was not involved in a coverup in the 1980s and that is why I am determined to get to the truth of this.”
Government papers uncovered last month in the wake of the Wanless report revealed that the then director general of MI5 corresponded with the cabinet secretary in 1986 about an unnamed MP who was alleged to have “a penchant for small boys” but accepted the politician’s word that he did not.
These papers also mentioned the former home secretary Leon Brittan in the context of such inquiries, as well as Margaret Thatcher’s parliamentary private secretary, the late Sir Peter Morrison, former diplomat Sir Peter Hayman and former minister Sir William van Straubenzee.
This article was written by Rajeev Syal and Peter Walker, for theguardian.com on Monday 3rd August 2015 16.24 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010