'Prejudicial' Heath inquiry to be referred to police watchdog by former PM's friends

Patrick Sawer
Edward Heath addressing the Conservative Party conference in Brighton in 1961 - PA

The Chief Constable whose force led the inquiry into claims Sir Edward Heath was a paedophile faces further pressure as the former Prime Minister’s supporters prepare to file an official complaint over its handling of the investigation.

Wiltshire Police’s investigation into Sir Edward was plunged into disarray on Saturday after it emerged that the most serious allegation against him was brought by a jailed paedophile and dropped by Scotland Yard two years ago.

Now his friends are set to file an official complaint to the Independent Police Complaints Commission against Mike Veale, the Chief Constable of Wiltshire and his officers, over the way they conducted the investigation.

They accuse Mr Veale and his officers of mounting a “fishing expedition” as part of a “unsatisfactory and prejudicial” investigation into Sir Edward.

Mike Veale, chief constable of Wiltshire Police, whose report said Sir Edward Heath would be questioned over allegations he raped and indecently assaulted boys as young as 10 were he alive today Credit: Rod Minchin/PA

Lord Hunt of Wirral, chair of the Sir Edward Heath Charitable Foundation, said: “Sir Edward’s reputation has been unfairly tarnished.

"No living person would be subject to a process which involves a trawl for accusations, followed by the publication of those accusations with no independent assessment of the ‘evidence’, or any details of the supposed place, time and circumstances of the alleged assaults."

He added: “The fundamental principle that someone is innocent until proven guilty should apply to the dead as well as to the living; and no convincing evidence whatsoever against Sir Edward Heath.”

The IPCC will be asked to examine every aspect of Wiltshire Police’s investigation, from what Sir Edward’s friends described as “the crass and prejudicial”, televised launch of the investigation outside his former home in Salisbury in August 2015, to the “extravagant” launch of the summary report on Friday.

Lord Hunt added: “We will be seeking access to the full report, so that we can consider and challenge details of the accusations, which were excluded from the summary report. We will also challenge why so many government officials, private secretaries and police protection officers, with intimate knowledge of Sir Edward’s movements during the periods under investigation, were not interviewed.”

Only seven out of 100 accusations against Sir Edward were regarded by police as sufficient to meet the minimal standard of credibility to justify a police interview if Sir Edward had still been alive.

But it has now emerged that the most serious allegation that he raped an 11-year-old boy more than 55 years ago was made by a serial child sex abuser while he was in prison on remand.

It was disclosed by The Daily Telegraph on Saturday that the claim was investigated by the Metropolitan Police as long ago as April 2015 and dropped.

Critics of Wiltshire Police said it was astonishing that the force had failed to disclose in its report that the most serious allegation against Sir Edward had been dropped two years earlier.

Lord Hunt said there was also an urgent need for an independent judge-led inquiry to review the findings of Operation Conifer.

He added: “It is clear the report is the result of a fishing expedition that attracted more than 100 accusations which Wiltshire Police then spent two years and £1.5m sifting through.

“In view of the wholly unsatisfactory and prejudicial nature of the report, we will be writing to the Government, seeking the appointment of a retired judge to review the material collected through Operation Conifer. Otherwise, Sir Edward’s reputation will be left forever in limbo, unjustly tarnished. This stain on his character and legacy must, in all justice, be removed.”

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