Sir Edward Heath had a case to answer on sex abuse allegations, Wiltshire Police say

05 October 2017

PA

Fixture: the blue plaque outside Sir Edward’s former home in Salisbury, where the appeal for victims took place

Fixture: the blue plaque outside Sir Edward’s former home in Salisbury, where the appeal for victims took place

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

Forthcoming Events

16-18 February 2018
Church Times Festival of Faith & Literature

Our literary festival with a theological slant in Bloxham, Oxfordshire. Speakers include Francis Spufford, Ruth Valerio, Eve Poole, Mark Oakley, James Runcie and many others. Find out more

5-6 May 2018
Church Times Festival of Poetry
With Sarum College, Salisbury. More details coming soon - register your interest here

The Church Times Podcast

The Church Times Podcast, hosted by Tim Wyatt and Ed Thornton, features a mixture of interviews and news analysis. Listen online

Subscribe now to get full access

To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read seven articles each month for free.