At least seven police forces – North Yorkshire, Wiltshire, Hampshire, Kent, Jersey, Gloucestershire and Thames Valley – are known to be considering allegations linked to the former Tory leader.
Operation Hydrant, the police national coordination hub for the oversight of historical sexual abuse allegations made against establishment figures, has been liaising with the forces that are dealing with the claims.
On Tuesday, Wiltshire police said it would lead the coordination and national oversight of the investigations into Heath, as reported by the Guardian last week.
The appointment is likely to raise questions given that the police watchdog announced an inquiry into Wiltshire’s mishandling of abuse allegations against Heath.
The force said in a statement: “This decision has been taken following consultation between Operation Hydrant and the affected forces and is based on operational considerations. The appointment of a lead force is to ensure that a consistent approach is adopted across the police forces concerned and to avoid duplication.”
The Independent Police Complaints Commission disclosed last week it was investigating claims by a retired Wiltshire officer that a prosecution against a suspect in the 1990s was dropped because threats were made to expose Heath as an alleged child abuser.
Wiltshire police followed up the announcement by launching a fresh appeal for victims and witnesses of Heath’s alleged abuse to come forward. Supt Sean Memory stood outside Heath’s former Salisbury home when making a statement to the TV cameras.
The IPCC inquiry is examining claims that witnesses to a court case were persuaded to withdraw their planned testimony against a brothel keeper, Myra Forde, who now lives in London, in order to stop the exposure of Heath.
Friends of the former prime minister, who died aged 89 in 2005, have been angered by the damage the inquiries have done to his reputation.
In a letter to the Times, Lord Armstrong of Ilminster said Heath was “almost completely, if not completely asexual”.
Armstrong, one of his closest advisers, said he “never detected a whiff of sexuality in relation to men, women or children” in 35 years of knowing Heath, who led the country from 1970 to 1974.
Armstrong is no stranger to the furore around sex abuse claims against establishment figures. As the cabinet secretary in 1986, he was warned by the security services that an MP had “a penchant for small boys,” but no action was taken.
He refused to name the MP involved and told reporters in July that the allegations were just “shadows of a rumour”. He said he believed the decision not to investigate the paedophile claims was “correct at the time”.
Armstrong, who was the principal private secretary to the prime minister between 1970 and 1975, said: “I worked closely with Edward Heath while he was prime minister and remained a friend for the rest of his life. His biographer, Philip Ziegler, has it right: he was almost completely (if not completely) asexual. In 35 years of knowing him, I never detected a whiff of sexuality, in relation to women, men or children. Even if that had been so, he would have been too conscious of the potential implications for his reputation and career to take risks of that kind.”
This article was written by Jamie Grierson, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 11th August 2015 16.13 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010