Former Prime Minister would have been interviewed under caution for allegations of sexual abuse if he were still alive

Sir Edward HeathWikimedia

After a two-year investigation into allegations of sexual abuse made against Sir Edward Heath, Wiltshire Police has issued a report stating that seven allegations of rape and sexual assault would have warranted the former Prime Minister being interviewed under criminal caution had he still been alive.

The investigation, Operation Conifer, involved the investigation of 42 allegations from 40 individuals.  

The seven cases for which Sir Edward, who died in 2005, would have been interviewed included the alleged rape of an 11-year-old boy 'during a paid sexual encounter in private in a dwelling'. The other cases were allegedly committed against four boys between 10 and 15 years of age, and two adult men. In total the alleged incidents span 31 years, from 1956 to 1992. Some date to the period in which Heath was leader of the Conservative party, and in cabinet as Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. All the incidents are alleged to have happened when Heath was an MP.

The Bishop of Salisbury, Nicholas Holtam, this week defended Sir Edward: 'There is a relatively low threshold for being interviewed under caution,' he wrote in the Church Times. 'It does not imply guilt. Only a court could determine that. Heath's own evi­d­ence would have been essential to a fair process. It cannot be done from beyond the grave. The Church of England might want to learn from that.'

The report resembles the Carlile Report into allegations of sexual abuse against Bishop George Bell, who was Bishop of Chichester for 29 years. The publication of that report is expected in the next few weeks.

The report concerning Sir Edward says had he still been alive and interviewed under caution, '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 lived in Salisbury Cathedral Close and was a member of the Cathedral's congregation from 1985 until his death in 2005. Operation Conifer was launched outside Heath's former home with an appeal for victims to come forward.

Dissatisfaction with the report has been expressed by 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. They called the report 'profoundly unsatisfactory because it neither justifies nor dispels the cloud of suspicion'.

'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.'

However, Andrew Bridgen, Conservative MP for North-West Leicestershire, spoke in support of the work of Wiltshire Police and its chief constable Mike Veale. He told The Guardian: 'The unprecedented negative and constant barrage on Veale and his investigative team, I find it quite chilling. Many will think it is an attempt to derail, silence and discredit the investigation before the report has been delivered'.