The chief constable of a police force investigating allegations that the late Sir Edward Heath sexually abused children has criticised tabloid claims that he is “120%” certain the complaints are true.
Mike Veale, the chief constable of Wiltshire police, said it was the job of the police to “objectively and proportionately” chase down leads. He said those who commented on the case while not in possession of the facts could damage the reputations of both the former prime minister and people who have disclosed alleged abuse.
It is unusual for chief constables to comment on ongoing investigations but the force published a statement by Veale following a story in the Mail on Sunday.
The tabloid claimed private comments made by Veale shows investigators believe the claims are true, and that there was a cover up to protect Heath. The paper has previously criticised the Wiltshire investigation.
A source who claimed to know Veale’s thinking is quoted in the paper as saying: “There are very close similarities in the accounts given by those who have come forward. The same names used for him, the same places and same type of incidents keep coming up. What stands out is that the people giving these accounts are not connected but the stories and the details dovetail.”
The source added: “Mr Veale believes in them 120% and thinks they are totally convincing.”
In December, Veale put out an open letter – again a very unusual step – vowing not to buckle under “unacceptable” media pressure and insisting the investigation into the late prime minister is not a “fishing trip” or a “witch-hunt”.
Following the new Mail on Sunday piece, Veale said: “This letter was written as a direct consequence further to unhelpful and inappropriate speculation about this case. However, this speculation continues and is of huge concern to me as I believe it will undermine trust and confidence in the police, have a potential prejudicial impact upon a live ongoing investigation, not to mention an impact upon the the confidence of persons who have come forward with information.
“In my letter I made a number of points to provide absolute clarity about why Wiltshire police is conducting this investigation. To reiterate, there is a clear legal requirement and supporting national policy from the College of Policing that I am required to undertake an investigation where allegations have been made, regardless of whether the alleged offender is living or deceased.
“In relation to the recent unhelpful speculation regarding the veracity of the allegations made, let me once again be clear, it is not the role of the police to judge the guilt or innocence of people in our criminal justice system.
“Our role is to objectively and proportionately go where the evidence takes us. Further, those who choose to continue to make comment on this case whilst not in possession of the facts ultimately may serve to unfairly damage both the reputation of Sir Edward Heath and/or those who have disclosed abuse.
“At the end of my open letter I stated that I would not be making further comment about the investigation unless it was for operational policing purposes. Other than to provide clarity around a number of key points, my position remains unchanged.
“The operational security of this investigation and the anonymity of the people who have come forward remains of paramount importance to Wiltshire police.”
Several police forces across Britain have received claims about Heath. The investigation is being co-ordinated and led by Wiltshire police because the former prime minister had a home in the force’s area.
Policing was rocked by the fallout from a Scotland Yard inquiry, Operation Midland, into claims establishment figures were involved in child sexual abuse in the 1970s and 1980s.
A report in November 2016 castigated the Metropolitan police for being duped by false claims from a complainant given the name “Nick”. In that case, police chiefs were among the last to realise their inquiry, which wrongly targeted establishment figures, was an error.