The controversial investigation into allegations that Sir Edward Heath was a paedophile has been dramatically widened, The Mail on Sunday can reveal.
Officials at Britain’s biggest ever public inquiry confirmed that they are to study the findings of an explosive police report into claims that the former Prime Minister was a child abuser.
The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse – set up to investigate claims that a Westminster paedophile ring was covered up by the Establishment – will now look at the outcome of Operation Conifer, a two-year inquiry into Heath led by Wiltshire Chief Constable Mike Veale. His confidential report is due to be published in the next few weeks.
The controversial investigation into allegations that Sir Edward Heath was a paedophile has been dramatically widened, The Mail on Sunday can reveal
A spokesman for the IICSA told The Mail on Sunday last night: ‘In the context of the Westminster investigation, the inquiry will be interested to see and consider the outcome of Wiltshire Police’s investigation into allegations against Sir Edward Heath.’
It is believed to be the first time the inquiry has referred specifically to the Heath investigation.
The statement follows a little-noticed change on the IICSA website on August 30 that the scope of its Westminster inquiry is to be widened to take account of ‘recent police investigations’.
The amendment did not refer to Operation Conifer, but The Mail on Sunday has been told that it was linked to the imminent conclusion of Mr Veale’s probe.
The website added the IICSA would be ‘reviewing, collating and aggregating the work of previous investigations, some of which may not be in the public domain’.
The Mail on Sunday revealed earlier this year how Mr Veale defied pressure to call off his investigations because he believed some claims were ‘120 per cent genuine’.
The developments came as one Tory MP warned his party not to try to stop Mr Veale from publishing his findings.
Several Conservative politicians have called Operation Conifer, which has cost £1.5 million, a waste of time and public money. They say it is pointless because Sir Edward died 12 years ago and could never be prosecuted.
But Tory MP Andrew Bridgen said Mr Veale had been wrongly vilified and there were ‘powerful voices who would like to silence Operation Conifer’.
Mr Veale was a ‘courageous and honest’ policeman and ‘must be allowed to complete his investigation, free of abuse, intimidation or pressure,’ Mr Bridgen writes in today’s Mail on Sunday. There should be no cover-up, regardless of any embarrassment to the Conservatives – or anyone else.
In February, this newspaper reported that more than 30 people had come forward to Wiltshire Police with allegations of sexual abuse by Sir Edward. The alleged victims were said to have given ‘strikingly similar’ accounts of incidents, even though the individuals were not known to each other.
According to some sources, the findings of Operation Conifer support claims that Sir Edward’s alleged crimes were reported to police years ago but buried by the Establishment.
Inquiry One: Wiltshire police probe
Wiltshire Police have been investigating child abuse claims against Sir Edward Heath for the past two years. Led by Chief Constable Mike Veale Operation Conifer has cost taxpayers £1.5 million so far and will finish in the next six weeks.
Led by Chief Constable Mike Veale Operation Conifer has cost taxpayers £1.5 million so far and will finish in the next six weeks
At one stage there were 20 people working on the case: six detectives, a PC and 13 civilian staff. They have interviewed Heath’s former friends, staff and sailing companions, fellow politicians and civil servants, and even examined his papers in Oxford’s Bodleian Library.
A panel of experts was brought in to provide independent oversight of Operation Conifer following claims that it was a witch-hunt, and a waste of money given that Heath is dead and so cannot be prosecuted. Two people were arrested and questioned following claims made as part of Operation Conifer but in April they were told they faced no further action.
After the investigation is closed, a summary will be published, while a fuller report will be handed to the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse to consider as part of its investigation into an alleged VIP paedophile ring in Westminster.
Inquiry Two: VIP sex ring report
The public inquiry into historic child abuse was set up by David Cameron in July 2014 after growing pressure from MPs and campaigners who feared the Establishment had covered up sex crimes by public figures.
Professor Alexis Jay became the fourth chairman last summer but immediately faced a fresh crisis as counsel to the inquiry, Ben Emmerson, was suspended and then resigned
But the inquiry struggled to get off the ground as the first two chairmen, Baroness Butler-Sloss and Dame Fiona Woolf, were forced to quit over perceived conflicts of interest.
The inquiry then chose New Zealand judge Dame Lowell Goddard to take over, but she too quit after a year in charge.
Professor Alexis Jay became the fourth chairman last summer but immediately faced a fresh crisis as counsel to the inquiry, Ben Emmerson, was suspended and then resigned.
Several other lawyers left and a series of survivors’ groups severed their links over their concerns about the inquiry’s leadership, scope and lack of progress.
The inquiry finally held its first public hearing in February this year after spending some £20 million, but it could last as long as a decade and cost more than £100 million.
Some of those who said he abused them are believed to have told police they went on to commit sexual abuse themselves as a result.
Operation Conifer was set up in 2015 in the wake of the Jimmy Savile scandal, but Mr Veale came under pressure to abandon it last year after separate claims of a paedophile ring at Westminster involving the late former Home Secretary Lord Brittan and ex-Defence chief Lord Bramall were found to be groundless.
The claims investigated by Wiltshire Police, understood to date from the 1960s to 1990s, are not linked to the discredited evidence of the man known as ‘Nick’, who made the false claims against Lord Brittan and Lord Bramall. The Met has now apologised and paid a reported £100,000 compensation.
Allegations that Sir Edward was involved in satanic orgies have been dismissed as fantasy by one expert asked to review the case.
Several senior politicians have dismissed allegations against Heath as absurd and unfounded. Former Tory Foreign Secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind complained Sir Edward’s reputation was being ‘besmirched’.
Former Cabinet Secretary Lord Armstrong of Ilminster, who was Sir Edward’s private secretary in No 10, criticised the inquiry in a letter to The Times last week, saying the allegations were ‘totally uncharacteristic and unlikely.’
Lord Armstrong referred to unspecified ‘concerns about the conduct of the inquiry’ and called for ‘an independent review of the investigation by a retired judge’.
And Wiltshire Tory MP James Gray said: ‘I do not believe the allegations against Sir Edward. If Mr Veale fails to justify his inquiry, he will be in serious difficulties.’
Sir Edward’s sexuality has been the source of speculation for decades. Some believed he was gay, others said he was asexual. At one point, he was being investigated by five police forces: the Met, Wiltshire, Hampshire, Kent and Jersey.
The claims, some of which were proved false, include alleged links to a convicted brothel keeper known as Madam Ling-Ling.
A paedophile dossier compiled by Labour peer Baroness Castle, a member of Harold Wilson’s Labour Government in the 1970s, said Sir Edward offered young boys trips on his yacht. In a separate incident, one man claimed Sir Edward picked him up in the 1960s when he was a 12-year-old hitchhiking in Kent and lured him to his Mayfair flat.
A IICSA spokesman declined to say if the change in its official stance, as detailed on the website, was to enable it to consider the findings of Mr Veale’s report.
Wiltshire Police said it had not yet sent its findings to the national inquiry, but expected to do so within the next six weeks.
- REPORTING TEAM: Simon Walters, Glen Owen, Martin Beckford and Brendan Carlin
Thirty alleged victims and an inquiry mired in controversy
By Martin Beckford
The police investigation into Sir Edward Heath was controversial from the very beginning.
Superintendent Sean Memory stood outside the gates of Arundells, the late PM’s home in Salisbury, to declare in a televised statement that ‘anyone who believes they may have been a victim’ should come forward.
Wiltshire Police has since acknowledged this was inappropriate, while Supt Memory is now on sick leave and being investigated for misconduct over an unrelated matter.
FLASHBACK: How The Mail on Sunday has reported the probe
The original claim under investigation was that the trial of a brothel keeper had once collapsed because she threatened to reveal how she procured boys for Heath.
But the Independent Police Complaints Commission watchdog later said there was no evidence of a cover-up.
More than a dozen people came forward to make allegations against Heath, who died in 2005 and who had been widely regarded as ‘completely asexual’ by friends.
Detectives were accused of going on a ‘fishing expedition’ by interviewing former Downing Street staff, Heath’s yacht crew and even the editor of Private Eye magazine, which had published jokes about ‘Sailor Heath’.
The most contentious allegation, however, was that Heath was linked to a network of paedophiles who held satanic orgies and stabbed children in churches.
The lurid claims were dismissed as fantasy by an expert in ritual abuse cases. Dr Rachel Hoskins concluded they were false memories unearthed in therapy.
She was also alarmed to discover that detectives were studying the discredited statements made by a man known only as ‘Nick’, who had falsely accused military chiefs and MPs, including Heath, of being part of a murderous VIP sex ring. After The Mail on Sunday revealed the astonishing allegations, Wiltshire Chief Constable Mike Veale strongly defended his investigation, declaring in a rare open letter: ‘This is not a “fishing trip” or “witch-hunt”.’
Earlier this year this newspaper told how Mr Veale is convinced the claims against Heath are ‘120 per cent’ genuine.
The number of alleged victims to come forward has risen to more than 30 and some of their accounts are ‘strikingly similar’.
Because Heath is dead and so cannot stand trial, his guilt or innocence can never be proven, and so the controversy over the accusations will likely continue long after Operation Conifer finishes its work.
My party may not like it, but there must not be a cover-up, says Andrew Bridgen, MP for North West Leicestershire
I was greatly concerned when I read a letter in the Times on Friday concerning the police inquiry into claims of historic child sexual abuse by former Prime Minister Sir Edward Heath.
The letter from Lord Armstrong of Ilminster, who was Sir Edward’s Downing Street private secretary, criticises Operation Conifer, led by Wiltshire Chief Constable Mike Veale.
It refers to unspecified ‘concerns about [its] conduct’ and calls for ‘an independent review of the investigation by a retired judge’. In my view this is both unjustified and improper.
Lord Armstrong, who went on to become Cabinet Secretary, has made no secret of the fact that he thinks Sir Edward is innocent. He has described the allegations as ‘totally uncharacteristic and unlikely’.
With all due to respect to Lord Armstrong, I believe he would be well advised not to interfere.
He is not the only one who has criticised Mr Veale: he has been vilified by sections of the media and some of my fellow Conservative MPs.
My message to them is: Leave Mr Veale to do his job.
The timing of Lord Armstrong’s intervention is no coincidence. Mr Veale has indicated that he intends to publish a summary of the findings of Operation Conifer shortly. It would be wholly wrong if the Establishment had any part in this investigation.
It is natural that some will be sceptical about the investigation into Sir Edward. A separate inquiry by the Metropolitan Police, called Operation Midland, collapsed last year after the main allegations were found to be groundless.
For decades, rumours about Jimmy Savile were dismissed by institutions such as the BBC, terrified about the impact of negative publicity on their reputation
Mr Veale declined calls to abandon his inquiry on the grounds that he believed the allegations concerning Sir Edward deserved to be taken seriously, on their own merit.
I congratulate him for doing so. I believe he is an honest, courageous and diligent police officer who deserves the chance to complete his investigation and announce his findings in public.
There are powerful voices who would like to silence Operation Conifer. My own party will be severely embarrassed if it transpires the claims against Sir Edward were true. But that is no reason for covering it up.
We have been here before. For decades, rumours about Jimmy Savile were dismissed by institutions such as the BBC, terrified about the impact of negative publicity on their reputation. It seems we have not learned our lesson. Sometimes the unthinkable does occur, and our knee-jerk reaction should not be to put a lid on it.
A brief period followed during which the chastened forces looked into historic allegations of abuse. But the process was tainted by a few bad apples who spotted the chance to revel in the limelight – and possibly make some money in the process.
But that should not be used by the Establishment as an excuse to shelve the entire process.
For all the problems associated with investigating these historic allegations, we have learned the hard way the perils of sweeping them under the carpet.
If we assume that all accusers are fantasists, we compound the distress of genuine victims who have carried their burden in secret for years.
As an MP, I have taken a close interest in trying to help these victims – the powerless against the powerful, battling to be heard when the weight of the state is lined up against them.
That is why Chief Constable Veale must be allowed to complete his investigation, free of intimidation of any sort.
Referring to the inquiry, set up when she was Home Secretary, Theresa May said last week: ‘If we turn a blind eye to this abuse, as has happened too much in the past, more crimes will be committed and more children will be suffering in silence.’
The Prime Minister is right.