Ex-PM ‘would have been questioned’ for abuse
Is investigating the dead a waste of time? Police are probing the activities of Sir Edward Heath, the former UK prime minister who died in 2005, over seven counts of historical child abuse.
Sir Edward Heath was one of only four British prime ministers who never married. As a secretive, enigmatic bachelor, his private life was the subject of lurid speculation during his time in office. One of his closest advisers called him “completely asexual”. He preferred, so it appeared, playing the piano and sailing.
But a decade after his death, Wiltshire Police launched Operation Conifer after Heath was accused of child sex abuse. Yesterday they released their report.
It says that, had Heath been alive, he would have been interviewed under caution over seven claims. A further 35 claims were dismissed. The police stressed that “no inference of guilt should be drawn from this.”
Heath became a Conservative Party MP in 1950, taking over as the party’s leader in 1965. He was the son of a carpenter and a maid from Kent, bucking the Tory trend of posh, privately-educated leaders.
To the surprise of many, he won the 1970 general election. His most famous achievement in office was securing Britain’s accession to the European Economic Community (EEC), the predecessor to the EU. But the rest of his tenure was marked by economic troubles and strikes. He was voted out in 1974 and was ousted as Tory leader by Margaret Thatcher a year later.
The allegations stretch the length of Heath’s political career. But now he is dead, the question of investigating him becomes a little trickier. He cannot stand trial. He cannot defend himself or be questioned. And he cannot, if guilty, be punished.
But the Jimmy Savile affair, when it was revealed that the entertainer had used his power and influence to conceal decades of child abuse, still resonates in Britain. Public demand for justice is strong.
The police say Operation Conifer has cost an estimated £1.4m, but the chief constable in charge of the operation has said it is not a "fishing trip or witch-hunt".
Police budgets are overstretched. Crime has risen by the steepest amount in a decade so far this year. So is investigating a dead man really worth it?
“This is not about a feverish desire for punishment,” say some. This is about the noble quest for justice. Heath may be dead, but his alleged victims are still alive, and this investigation may finally put their minds at rest. And this is not just any abuse scandal; it implicates the man who was once the most powerful in the country. We need to know the truth.
“But we probably never will,” reply others. The country has already learned painful lessons from the Savile case, and this murky, uncertain investigation, in the words of Telegraph journalist Tim Stanley, “perpetually ruins Heath’s reputation” whether or not he is guilty. This is a waste of time and money.
- Is investigating the dead a waste of time?
- How far back should historical investigations go? 50 years? 500 years?
- Define, as concisely as you can, the word “justice”.
- Design a poster offering advice to those who suspect someone they know is being abused.
Some People Say...
“The desire for justice is the most powerful human emotion of all.”
What do you think?
Q & A
- What do we know?
- Sir Edward Heath lived a reclusive, mysterious life. During his time as British prime minister and afterwards, whispers of sexual abuse have swirled around him, but he was never charged with any crime. Now police say that, were he alive, they would have questioned him over seven counts of child abuse. Several other accusations have been dropped.
- What do we not know?
- The big question: whether he is guilty. The Sir Edward Heath foundation has said: “All those who knew him or worked with him are, without exception, convinced that the allegations of child abuse will all be found to be groundless.” The police report gave no specific details about the individual allegations, saying more details could compromise the anonymity of the alleged victims.
- Four British prime ministers who never married
- The other three are Spencer Compton, 1st Earl of Wilmington (1742-1743), William Pitt the Younger (1783-1801 and 1804-1806) and Arthur Balfour (1902-1905).
- Without sexual feelings of any kind.
- Privately-educated leaders
- The Tories’ three leaders prior to Heath, Anthony Eden, Harold McMillan and Alec Douglas-Home, who were all prime ministers, were all educated at Eton.
- 1970 general election
- Heath defeated the Labour incumbent Harold Wilson, who stayed on as Labour leader to defeat Heath in the 1974 election.
- Margaret Thatcher
- Heath never forgave Thatcher for ousting him and became one of the Iron Lady’s fiercest back-bench critics.
- Heath’s political career
- Heath was an MP from 1951 until 2001. Along with prime minister, he also held the posts of shadow chancellor, Lord Privy Seal and secretary of state for industry.
- Jimmy Savile
- A famous entertainer for four decades, Savile died in 2011. After he died, it emerged that he had been one of Britain’s most prolific paedophiles.