WILTSHIRE Police, at the end of a two-year investigation into sexual-abuse allegations made against Sir Edward Heath (News, 7 August 2015), have said that, had he still been alive, seven of the allegations would have led to the former Prime Minister’s being interviewed under caution.
The Bishop of Salisbury, the Rt Revd Nicholas Holtam, this week defended Sir Edward. “There is a relatively low threshold for being interviewed under caution,” he writes (Comment). “It does not imply guilt. Only a court could determine that. Heath’s own evidence would have been essential to a fair process.”
PAInvestigated: Sir Edward Heath, photographed in 2000, aged 84
The investigation, Operation Conifer, began in August 2015 with a much-criticised launch outside Sir Edward’s former home in the cathedral close at Salisbury, where police appealed for any victims of sexual abuse to come forward. It has since been said that the Chief Constable of Wiltshire, Mike Veale, now regrets this choice of location, though not the appeal.
Altogether, Wiltshire Police investigated 42 separate allegations against Sir Edward, who died in 2005, from 40 individuals. Operation Conifer has also led to the investigation of other suspects.
It is understood that the police erred on the side of caution when choosing the allegations concerning seven different complainants. Two others were said to have been removed from the list at a late stage. The seven includes the alleged rape of an 11-year-old boy “during a paid sexual encounter in private in a dwelling”. Other allegations include one of rape of a male under 16, three of indecent assault on a male under 16, four of indecent assault on a male under 14, and two of indecent assault on a male over 16.
The collapse of a similar investigation, Operation Midland, into an alleged satanic paedophile ring in Westminster, based on the evidence of an individual later labelled “a fantasist”, made Wiltshire Police very cautious. A statement earlier this year said: “A panel of independent experts outside of policing are providing ongoing scrutiny of the investigation to ensure its proportionality and justification.
“Furthermore, in line with recognised best practice, Wiltshire Police recently commissioned Operation Hydrant to undertake an independent review of the investigation to ensure its ongoing proportionality and justification.”
None the less, those who knew Sir Edward dispute the allegations. There is, for example, a discrepancy over whether Sir Edward ever drove himself, denied by friends but affirmed in the police report. Details of this and many of the allegations, however, are withheld from the summary report, published on Thursday, to protect the identities of those making them. Further evidence is said to exist in the fuller 350-page report that has been sent in confidence to the Home Office and the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse.
In a further statement, Bishop Holtam said: “The investigation by Wiltshire Police has been very challenging. Victims of abuse need to know they will be taken seriously, allegations investigated thoroughly, and that no one is above the law.”
Mr Veale said on Thursday: “The report does not draw any conclusions as to the likely guilt or innocence of Sir Edward Heath.” He was, however, “satisfied there are compelling and obvious reasons to investigate allegations made against Sir Edward Heath.”
Sir Edward Heath, who was Conservative Prime Minister from 1970 to 1974, was a member of the congregation of Salisbury Cathedral from 1985 until his death in 2005. The Acting Dean of Salisbury, Canon Edward Probert, said that the report was likely to raise issues for people who might or might not be directly associated with this particular investigation.
“The Cathedral is fully committed to offering support for victims of any kind of abuse, and ensuring that their voice is heard.”
The case has a parallel with the investigation into allegations of sexual abuse made against George Bell, a former Bishop of Chichester. Lord Carlile, appointed to investigate allegations, has completed his report (News, 25 November 2016), and its publication is expected in the next few weeks.
Complexity doesn’t imply criminality’: Nicholas Holtam on Edward Heath