Police Monday named Sir Edward Heath as a suspected pedophile in the most dramatic twist yet in the ongoing investigation into allegations of historic child abuse.
Appealing for potential victims of the late former Prime Minister to come forward, Wiltshire Police revealed that he had been named in relation to offences concerning children.
The force said it was now working with the NSPCC to support those affected, but declined to give any further details about the nature of the allegations against Sir Edward, who died in 2005, aged 89.
The revelations came as it was announced that the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) was investigating claims that police had quietly dropped a criminal trial in the 1990s after the defendant threatened to expose Sir Edward as a pedophile.
Last summer a retired police officer, who had been with the force at the time, came forward claiming that senior officers had ordered a prosecution be stopped because it would have led to the former Prime Minister’s name being dragged through the mud.
The identity of the defendant on trial is not known, but it is understood that he was not claiming to have been abused by Sir Edward himself. The trial is thought to have been at an early stage and was dropped before a jury had been sworn in.
The police officer who made the allegations is understood to have claimed that he complained about the matter at the time but said his concerns were swept under the carpet.
In the wake of criticism over South Yorkshire police’s handling of the Rotherham child abuse scandal last summer, the officer came forward and lodged a formal complaint.
Wiltshire Police began investigating his allegations and in March this year passed the matter to the IPCC, which will now explore whether there is evidence of a police cover-up and also what the police did at the time to investigate the allegations against Sir Edward.
Meanwhile, a spokesman for Wiltshire Police said its detectives were now appealing for any alleged victims to come forward.
The spokesman said: “Sir Edward Heath has been named in relation to offences concerning children. He lived in Salisbury for many years and we would like to hear from anyone who has any relevant information that may assist us in our enquiries or anyone who believes they may have been a victim.
“We are working closely with the NSPCC to ensure that any victims are appropriately supported. They provide trained helpline counsellors to listen and provide assistance.
“We take all reports of child abuse, either current or that occurred in the past very seriously. Victims will receive support throughout any investigation and associated judicial process.
“If there is evidence of offences having been committed we will ensure that, if possible, those responsible are held to account through a thorough and detailed investigation.
“This includes any other parties who are identified as having been involved in child sex abuse. Some people may never have spoken out about the abuse they have suffered but we would urge them to please contact us and to not suffer in silence.”
It is understood that while Wiltshire Police is not aware of any other allegations against the former Prime Minister, his name had been passed to the Metropolitan Police, which is carrying out Operation Midland, an investigation into claims of a historic VIP pedophile ring operating around Westminster.
Sir Edward, who became the Tories’ youngest leader and was Prime Minister in the Conservative Government between 1970 and 1974, bought his Salisbury home, Arundells, in 1985 and lived there until his death a decade ago. He was famously reticent about his private life and while rumours often circulated around Westminster, this is the first time that the unmarried former Tory leader has been name as publicly surfaced in connection with child abuse.
Last night Tom Watson, the Labour MP who is running for the deputy leadership of the party, said: “I received information in 2012 concerning allegations of child abuse carried out by Edward Heath and a separate claim concerning Heath was made to me subsequently.
“I passed them both to the police, who have confirmed to me that at least one of those allegations is being investigated and taken seriously.”
The chief executive of the NSPCC, Peter Wanless, said: “Whether abuse happened in the past, or is occurring today, whether those being accused are authority figures or not, allegations of crimes against children must be investigated thoroughly.”
The Sir Edward Heath Charitable Foundation said in a statement: “We welcome the investigation by Wiltshire Police, which we wholeheartedly believe will clear Sir Edward’s name and we will co-operate fully with the police in their inquiries.”