Sir Ted Heath outside his home ‘Arundells’ in Salisbury, Wiltshire
And thus another deplorable police investigation into allegations of sex crimes by a dead public figure draws to its shoddy end.
The Chief Constable of Wiltshire announced yesterday that, while there is no evidence for him to pronounce on the matter of guilt or innocence, Sir Edward Heath would have been interviewed under caution about seven allegations out of 42 made against him, most of them by former rent boys.
At a time of straitened police budgets, Mike Veale’s officers have spent £1.5 million of taxpayers’ money on ‘Operation Conifer’, including £34,542 on air tickets and car hire, and £556 on purchasing books about the former prime minister.
The real shame of this story, however, is not the squandered cash; it is the lack of judgment displayed by Wiltshire police from beginning to end of this saga, which even now the Chief Constable seeks to justify with his mealy-mouthed conclusion.
Veale’s officers put themselves in the wrong from the day in 2015 that they chose to hold a televised press conference outside Heath’s old house in the Cathedral Close at Salisbury, appealing for ‘victims’ of his alleged paedophile activities to come forward.
Veale now admits they have found nothing that would for a moment stand up in court. Yet he delivers an outcome that leaves the former Tory prime minister’s reputation smeared. No wonder a former Director of Public Prosecutions, Lord Macdonald, declares that ‘they are covering their backs at the expense of a dead man… The police went completely over the top’.
I knew Heath somewhat, mostly as a journalist, though I once attended a lunch party at his Salisbury house. He was a relentlessly ungracious man and a poor prime minister. But he was also a genuine public servant who did his best according to his own lights.
His crippling loneliness as a human being demanded sympathy in his lifetime, pity now that he is dead. He seemed fully able to communicate only at the keys of a piano or the helm of a yacht. But none of this makes him a paedophile.
Queen Elizabeth II and Field Marshal Edwin Bramall. In the case of Lord Bramall, it eventually emerged that large sums of public money had been spent by the police and his home raided mob-handed at dawn
The notion that he committed assaults on boys between 1956 and 1992 — especially during the last 22 years, when he had constant police protection, is ridiculous, indeed contemptible.
During his lifetime, he was generally considered asexual, and this seems overwhelmingly likely to have been the case.
We have already seen the police conduct probes of Field Marshal Lord Bramall (a D-Day veteran and former head of the Armed Forces) and the late Leon Brittan, who was a Tory Home Secretary, which have ended with the Met Police being obliged to apologise and pay large sums of compensation, which are nonetheless inadequate, given the pain caused to the accused and their families.
Even the investigators now admit that ‘Nick’, the anonymous accuser pointing finger in those cases, was a fantasist.
Since the exposure of the crimes of Jimmy Savile and a handful of other showbusiness celebrities, there has been a willingness to indulge witch-hunts against other public figures.
The police choice of the word ‘victim’ — implying guilt — rather than the proper one of ‘accuser’ is a giveaway.
Leon Brittan with his wife Diana Clemetson
I am afraid I am cynical enough — especially as a friend of Lord Bramall — to believe that some officers are eager to fell ‘tall poppies’, to investigate and frankly humiliate some big names.
Chief Constable Mike Veale said yesterday that he would have been guilty of an ‘indefensible dereliction’ of his duty had he not launched an inquiry into the claims against Heath.
It is understandable the police should be nervous of allegations of an ‘Establishment cover-up’, when some ‘victim’ organisations clamour vociferously to this effect.
Veale himself has been subjected to a bombardment of emails from ‘victim’ lobbyists.
It is hard to exaggerate the absurdity and extravagance of some allegations being hurled about — for instance, that Heath was a member of an international network of Devil-worshipping paedophiles who devoured babies.
Another claim — dismissed by the police — held that he conducted orgies on a yacht.
One of his accusers has been cautioned for pretending to be three different informants, while another remains under investigation.
It deserves emphasis that not one of the official drivers, aides and scores of close-protection police officers who served Heath has lent a scintilla of credence to the allegations against him.
If Veale was a big enough man properly to fill his boots, he should have had the guts to say from an early stage of Operation Conifer that, amid so much obvious fantasy material, it was not in the public interest to continue investigations into a dead man, on such slender or non-existent evidence, after such an interval of time.
Sir Edward Heath has been accused of raping a 11-year-old boy and touching children as young as ten even when he was Tory leader, an incendiary police report said
Meanwhile, it becomes ever more plain that providing anonymity for accusers in such cases as these is ever more perilous. Too many fantasists and attention-seekers have become entangled in historic sexual abuse claims.
Genuine victims deserve deep sympathy and respect — but so also do those, dead or alive, accused of committing terrible crimes, unless or until they are found guilty.
There must be a case for reviewing accusers’ unlimited right to make devastating allegations against named individuals without cost or risk to themselves. Sir Keir Starmer deserves some of the blame. Today, he is a member of the Labour Shadow Cabinet, but between 2008 and 2013 he was Director of Public Prosecutions.
At the height of the Savile frenzy, he endorsed the Inspectorate of Constabulary’s edict, circulated to all forces in reference to sexual abuse cases, that ‘the presumption that complainants should always be believed should be institutionalised’.
This was madness, has now been amply proved to be madness, and must be undone as swiftly as possible.
Children’s identities in such cases should always be shielded, but today’s accusers are middle-aged men. Is it really in the interests of justice, especially towards those accused, that they should be able to say anything they wish about anyone famous they choose, without facing even the embarrassment of being publicly exposed if they are found to have lied?
Allegation: Ted Heath was accused of raping a 12-year-old boy who said he worked out his identity after seeing a picture of him with Margaret Thatcher (right) and Dame Pat Hornsby Smith (left). This may be the picture he described
In the case of Lord Bramall, it eventually emerged that large sums of public money had been spent by the police and his home raided mob-handed at dawn, on the evidence of ‘Nick’ — whom you or I would have realised in ten minutes was a fantasist, a revelation that dawned on the investigating officers only after 15 months.
I will listen respectfully to anybody who wishes to tell me that Ted Heath was a grumpy old sulk who hated Margaret Thatcher and got us into the Common Market under false pretences.
Not for a moment, however, will I believe anybody who suggests that he was a sexual deviant, a rapist of small boys.
In a properly-run world, Wiltshire’s Chief Constable would lose his job over his force’s shabby, foolish, bungled inquiry into the former prime minister.
From the day of that disgraceful press conference in Salisbury’s Cathedral Close in 2015, Veale and his officers’ behaviour has been unworthy of their uniforms, of their duty to the public interest. His nasty statement yesterday seems the last straw.
If Veale stays at his post, the best we may realistically hope is that other policemen learn the lesson, and launch no more witch-hunts against dead politicians.
How can we hope to persuade able men and women to enter political life, without receiving some personal respect, unless they do something to forfeit it?
The best service we can do Ted Heath is to dismiss the slur on his memory left by yesterday’s police statement, and remember him as he deserves: an honourable man.