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  1. ITV Report

Sir Edward Heath 'would have been interviewed under caution' over child sex abuse allegations, report states

Former Prime Minister Sir Edward Heath would have been interviewed under caution if he had been alive to face allegations of historical child sex abuse, a report has revealed.

The report details the results of Operation Conifer, an investigation led by Wiltshire Police on behalf of the National Police Service launched in 2015 when Sir Edward was named as a suspect.

Seven of the 42 claims against him - which included rape and indecent assault of children aged as young as 10 - met the criteria for further investigation, Wiltshire Police said.

But 19 allegations would have been discounted due to "undermining information" being available.

It comes after a leading criminologist, who helped police with the inquiry, told ITV News that some of the evidence was "fantastical", and exposed a "catalogue of fabrication".

The report concludes:

7
allegations would have led to Sir Edward being interviewed under caution
19
were subject to undermining information and would not meet the threshold to interview under caution
3
people have subsequently admitted they were genuinely mistaken in naming Sir Edward as their abuser
10
allegations were reported by a third party, meaning no conclusions could be made
3
allegations were made anonymously, and no conclusions could be made here either

In two cases, the report reveals, there is evidence to suggest those making the claims "may have attempted to intentionally mislead the police" in naming Sir Edward as their abuser.

A criminal investigation is still underway regarding one of those two people, it states.

In the other, the person was formally cautioned for wasting police time after they admitted that they had made three separate reports to police, where they claimed to be three different people.

Sir Edward Heath died in 2005. Credit: PA

The report goes on to emphasise that "no inference of guilt should be drawn by the decision to interview under caution."

"The account from Sir Edward Heath would have been as important as other evidence gathered as part of the wider investigation," it adds.

Operation Conifer sparked controversy almost from the start, after a senior police officer made a television appeal outside Sir Edward's former home in Salisbury urging victims to come forward.

Friends and colleagues of the late Sir Edward, who died in 2005, have been vocal in their support - accusing police of conducting a "witch hunt" against someone who was not alive to defend himself.

Speaking after the release of the report on Thursday, Sir Edward's godson Lincoln Seligman described how the politician would come on holiday with him and his family when he was young - and how he grew up to have a closer friendship with him.

"I knew him to be a man of great integrity, and also not so idiotic as to go and jeopardise his career and the things he wanted to achieve for himself and for the country by indulging in anything so dangerous and pointless," he said.

Mr Seligman said he would not criticise the police, but called for an independent, judge-led inquiry to analyse the evidence and come to conclusions over the remaining seven allegations - whittled down from some 118 which were made initially following the police's controversial appeal.

He appeared alongside North Wiltshire MP James Gray, who reiterated the report's emphasis that the fact Sir Edward would have been interviewed under caution was no indication of guilt, as it was required only a "low level of evidence".

He said it was "wrong" that allegations were still "hanging over his head", tarnishing his name beyond the grave.

"This was a distinguished Prime Minister, and we should not allow that shadow to hang over him for all time."

Lord Hunt of Wirral, chair of the Sir Edward Heath Charitable Foundation, and Lord Armstrong of Ilminster, former Cabinet Secretary, echoed their call for an inquiry in a joint statement which slammed the report as "profoundly unsatisfactory".

It neither justifies nor dispels the cloud of suspicion.

All those who knew Sir Edward Heath or worked with him are, without exception, convinced that the allegations of child abuse will all be found to be groundless. Everything that is known of his character, his habits, his intelligence and his principles supports this view.

Sir Edward Heath’s reputation should not be left in limbo. The allegations made to and the evidence collected by the police should be independently reviewed and an independent conclusion arrived at. That is the only way in which justice can be done.

– Lord Hunt of Wirral and Lord Armstrong of Ilminster

Defending the investigation, Ch Cons Mike Veale said he was "satisfied" that there were "compelling and obvious reasons" to follow up the allegations against Sir Edward.

"Sir Edward Heath was an extremely prominent, influential and high-profile person, who was arguably one of the most powerful people in the world, commensurate with the public office and political office he held," he said.

"The allegations against him were of the utmost seriousness and from a significant number of people. I hope people will understand that given these circumstances, it would be an indefensible dereliction of a Chief Constable's duty not to have investigated the allegations against a former Prime Minister - even though he is deceased."

The findings of the report will be passed to the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, which is being chaired by Professor Alexis Jay.