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‘Grounds to question Heath over abuse claims’

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THERE would have been grounds to question former Prime Minister Sir Edward Heath over allegations that he indecently assaulted a man at a public event in Jersey, it has emerged.

Ex-Prime Minister Edward Heath

As part of a two-year operation, detectives from Wiltshire Police investigated 42 allegations of abuse, including rape and indecent assault, made against Sir Edward. Four of those allegations concerned abuse in Jersey and came to light in 2015 and last year.

Yesterday the findings of the £1.5 million Operation Conifer were published. The force concluded that seven allegations of abuse across the British Isles against Sir Edward would have warranted him being interviewed under caution.

Two of those allegations related to alleged sexual crimes in the Channel Islands.

It is alleged that while an MP for Sidcup in 1976 – two years after he resigned as Prime Minister – he allegedly ‘indecently assaulted, over clothing, an adult male during a chance encounter at a public event’ in Jersey. The allegation was made to the States police in February last year during Operation Whistle, the Island inquiry into historical child abuse.

The former Tory leader, who died in 2005, is also accused of ‘indecently assaulting a 15-year-old male, not known to him, in private, during a chance encounter in a public building’ in Guernsey in 1967 when he was leader of the Conservatives.

Both the Jersey and Guernsey allegations, Wiltshire detectives say, would have warranted police interviewing Sir Edward to hear his account of events but do not imply guilt.

Detective Superintendent Stewart Gull from the States of Jersey Police said the force had helped Wiltshire officers conduct inquiries in Jersey as part of Operation Conifer.

He said: ‘We can confirm that Jersey is one of the 14 police areas that featured as part of this investigation and that a total of four allegations were reported to have occurred locally.

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‘These allegations were received between 2015 and 2016 and were referred to Wiltshire Police for investigation as part of Operation Conifer.’

The investigation has been criticised by two members of the House of Lords who were close to Sir Edward.

Lord Hunt of Wirral, chairman of the Sir Edward Heath Charitable Foundation, and Lord Armstrong of Ilminster, former Cabinet Secretary and parliamentary private secretary to Sir Edward, said the report was ‘profoundly unsatisfactory’.

In a joint statement, they added: ‘It neither justifies nor dispels the cloud of suspicion. It contains a summary of the investigation, but draws no conclusion as to Sir Edward’s guilt although during the investigation the Chief Constable was heard to express, as he certainly should not have done, his personal view that Sir Edward Heath was probably guilty.’

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Tabloid newspapers reported earlier this year that Wiltshire Police chief Mike Veale had said he was ‘120 per cent certain’ complaints against Sir Edward were true. Mr Veale denies that anyone from among his force has ever made any public or private comment about the outcome of a hypothetical judicial process.

Mr Veale also defended his force’s investigation and said that the publication of the report was a ‘watershed moment’ for those who claimed there had been a government cover-up of abuse by senior figures.

He added: ‘Children or adults who allege that they are being abused or have been abused must have the trust and confidence in the police. They deserve to be listened to, deserve to know they will be taken seriously. They deserve to know that the police will support them and they deserve to know that their anonymity will be preserved.’

Victims of recent or historical abuse can contact the States police on 612612. The sexual assault referral centre at Dewberry House can be telephoned on 888222.

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