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  1. ITV Report

Sir Edward Heath probe 'not a fishing trip or witch-hunt', police chief says

Former Conservative prime minister Sir Edward Heath. Credit: PA

A police chief constable has defended his force's handling of child sex allegations against former prime minister Sir Edward Heath.

Mike Veale, who leads Wiltshire Police, wrote an open letter to the public to "set the record straight" about the investigation, in which he stressed it was not a "fishing trip" or "witch-hunt" as it had been criticised.

"When I took on this investigation I knew it would attract intense scrutiny. I also recognised it could potentially damage confidence in Wiltshire Police," Mr Veale wrote.

He described the former Conservative prime minister, who died at home in Salisbury in July 2005 aged 89, as an "extremely prominent, influential and high profile person".

  • Operation Conifer

The police probe, named Operation Conifer, began in 2015 after claims against Sir Edward surfaced.

Mr Veale said: "Over the last few weeks particularly, there has been much speculation about this case.

"Whilst it is not commonplace for us to comment on a live ongoing criminal investigation I really am very concerned and profoundly disappointed about the impact of this speculation on the public's confidence in the police, the potential prejudicial impact upon a live criminal investigation, not to mention the confidence of persons who have come forward with information."

  • 'Complex investigation'

Mr Veale added that the investigation was "incredibly complex" and "multi-stranded".

He continued: "The legal role of the police service is to, on behalf of the public, impartially investigate allegations without fear or favour, and go where the evidence takes us.

"I take my responsibilities of operational independence, which is the bedrock of British policing, very seriously indeed.

"Therefore I will remain operationally independent and will not be influenced by inappropriate and unacceptable pressure from people who don't know the detail of this case.

"I will not be buckling under pressure to not investigate or to conclude the investigation prematurely."

Mr Veale said investigators had not spoken to the man known as Nick who features in Operation Midland - the Met Police probe into an alleged Westminster paedophile ring.

Sir Edward Heath pictured in 2000. Credit: PA

Wiltshire's police and crime commissioner Angus Macpherson said: "The chief constable and I both take very seriously the duty to investigate fully and fairly all allegations or complaints that are received by the force.

"I also take seriously the need to preserve the good name of individuals, living or dead, if there is no evidential basis to allegations or complaints made against them.

"As commissioner, I recognise that the chief constable has complete operational independence in relation to the investigation of criminality. He knows he has my backing to investigate without fear or favour.

"I recognise there is a level of public interest that places additional pressure on the investigation.

"I believe the root cause of this pressure is a legitimate concern that the reputation of a former prime minister may be tarnished without there being credible evidence of guilt.

"The chief constable and I are of one mind: the police cannot act as judge and jury in their own cause.

"Once the police have conducted the investigation to a conclusion, there must be an alternative avenue to assess the credibility of any evidence that has been gathered."