Ted Heath would have been questioned over seven abuse claims, police say

The police report into claims Sir Edward Heath sexually abused children says that seven allegations of rape and sexual assault would have merited his interview under criminal caution had he still been alive.

The claims against Heath that would have merited interview under caution span 31 years. The alleged rape is claimed to have occurred in 1961 with the alleged victim being 11 years old.

Heath was then MP for Bexley and the lord privy seal. The report says the alleged incident happened within the London area covered by the Metropolitan police. The report says: “Sir Edward Heath allegedly raped and indecently assaulted a male, aged 11 years, during a paid sexual encounter in private in a dwelling.”

One offence of sexual abuse is alleged to have occurred in 1967 while Heath was leader of the Conservative party; another when he was trade minister in 1964. None occurred while he was prime minister between 1970 and 1974, while three of the alleged offences occurred after that.

The report says the allegations received in seven cases led to Heath’s “suspected involvement in an offence” and thus the former prime minister would need to have been interviewed under criminal caution.

The report says: “Further to a proportionate investigation, reasonable grounds exist that, if Sir Edward Heath had been alive today, he would have been interviewed under caution regarding his suspected involvement in an offence.”

The report says that if he had still been alive and interviewed under caution “it is emphasised that his account would be as important as other evidence gathered as part of the wider investigation”.

“Accordingly it is critical to stress that no inference of guilty should be drawn from the fact that Heath would have been interviewed under caution.”

Heath became leader of the Conservative party in 1965. In 1970 he defied opinion polls to win a surprise general election victory and become prime minister. His four years in office were dogged by industrial strife, with his biggest achievement being Britain’s entry into the European Economic Community.

After defeat at the polls in 1974 he soon lost the Tory leadership to Margaret Thatcher. He never married and his private life was the subject of speculation, some of which was lurid. Heath was a skilled yachtsman and pianist in his spare time.

The offences that would have merited an interview were allegedly committed against five boys aged between 10 and 15 years, and two men. In one case, police say there was some undermining evidence but that the politician should have been questioned anyway.

Inquiries into the claims were led by the Wiltshire police on behalf of 14 forces who received claims alleging that the former prime minister had carried out acts of sexual abuse.

Complainants to police also alleged Heath carried out crimes in 1962 in Kent against a boy aged 10 in a public place following a chance encounter. One offence in 1964 against a boy aged 15 is alleged to have happened while Heath was secretary of state for trade and industry.

Three offences, between 1976 and 1992, occurred after Heath had served as the seventh postwar British prime minister.

The investigation into Heath over claims of child sexual abuse started in August 2015. It was led by the Wiltshire force as his Salisbury home was in the area it covers. The investigation was codenamed Operation Conifer. The allegations it received came from various places in the country and dated back decades.

Wiltshire police said they received a total of 42 allegations relating to 40 separate individuals. The claims made covered 14 different police force areas in the UK and the Channel Islands and covered a period from 1956 to 1992. All were alleged to have happened when Heath was an MP. They related to physical as well as sexual abuse.

The Wiltshire police chief constable, Mike Veale, said of the inquiry: “This watershed moment regarding investigations of people connected to the establishment should not be underestimated.”

In a statement, supporters of Heath criticised the police report. Lord Hunt of Wirral, chair of the Sir Edward Heath Charitable Foundation, and Lord Armstrong of Ilminster, former cabinet secretary and PPS to Heath while he was prime minister, said: “The Wiltshire police report is profoundly unsatisfactory because it neither justifies nor dispels the cloud of suspicion.

“It contains a summary of the investigation, but draws no conclusion as to Sir Edward’s guilt, although during the investigation the chief constable was heard to express, as he certainly should not have done, his personal view that Sir Edward Heath was probably guilty.

“As Sir Edward is dead, justice requires that there should be a quasi-judicial process as a substitute for the judicial process. This could be in the form of an independent review by a retired judge, with unrestricted access to all the evidence collected by the Wiltshire police. In the meantime, a fundamental, time-honoured principle should be respected, namely that a man is innocent until he is proven guilty.”

James Gray, the Conservative MP for North Wiltshire, also called for an independent inquiry: “Let’s have absolute clarity. Was Sir Edward Heath a paedophile or was he not? I’m plain in my mind that he was not. I think it’s important for the country, the people to know that was the case. This was a distinguished prime minister. We should not allow that shadow to hang over him for all time.”

Heath’s godson Lincoln Seligman said he had know him for half a century. “I don’t believe any of the allegations,” he said. “I knew him as a child. Early on he was just a friend of my parents and I treated him as that. He had just become an MP. He was one of the people who was around in our lives. He used to come on holiday with our family and I and my siblings had every opportunity to observe him at close hand.

“When I grew up I formed a closer relationship with him. I knew him to be a man of great integrity and not so idiotic to jeopardise his career by indulging in anything so pointless and dangerous.”

He said that following the police appeal for victims to come forward he was surprised 10,000 people had not done so.

A former solicitor-general accused Wiltshire police of turning the inquiry into a “game show” following the publication of a report on Thursday. Sir Edward Garnier said the conclusions related to seven outstanding matters were an attempt to justify the police inquiry.

“ I think this whole flourish today of [Wiltshire police] saying there are seven outstanding matters is about self-justification. It has turned in to a game show and is there to protect the police’s reputation,” he told the Guardian.

Garnier said that police forces were embarking upon unnecessary inquiries into high profile abuse as they struggle to recover their reputations following the failure to prosecute the former BBC personality Jimmy Savile.

The investigation received intense and sustained criticism while it was being carried out. In December 2016, Veale was stung into a vehement denunciation of the criticism.

Veale denied the investigation into Heath was a “fishing expedition” or “witch hunt” and vowed not to bow to “unacceptable” media pressure.

The report made public Thursday is not the full version. That will go to the independent inquiry into child sexual abuse set up by the government.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Vikram Dodd, Steven Morris and Rajeev Syal, for theguardian.com on Thursday 5th October 2017 11.31 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010