Edward Heath with his piano at his home Arundells in Salisbury, Wiltshire
The police chief investigating claims that Sir Edward Heath was a paedophile is convinced the allegations are ‘120 per cent’ genuine, The Mail on Sunday can reveal.
More than 30 people have come forward with claims of sexual abuse by the former Conservative Prime Minister, according to well-placed sources.
And they are said to have given ‘strikingly similar’ accounts of incidents to Wiltshire Police – even though the individuals are not known to each other.
The Mail on Sunday has been told that Wiltshire Chief Constable Mike Veale regards the allegations as ‘totally convincing’, and plans to publish a report in June.
Detectives have established that, contrary to claims that Sir Edward could not have committed the crimes as he ‘never drove a car’ and ‘always’ had a police driver with him, he did drive – and did have a car.
They have photographic evidence that shows he is a driver, and have established that he had a driving licence. He also bought a Rover 2000 after being deposed as Tory leader by Margaret Thatcher in 1975, when he was 58.
Astonishingly, Mr Veale is also understood to support claims that Sir Edward’s alleged crimes were reported to police years ago but covered up by the Establishment.
Some of those who said Sir Edward abused them are believed to have told police they went on to commit sexual abuse crimes themselves as a result.
The investigation into Sir Edward, called Operation Conifer, was set up in 2015 in the wake of the Jimmy Savile scandal.
Mr Veale came under pressure to abandon the inquiry last year after separate claims of a paedophile ring at Westminster involving former Home Secretary, the late Lord Brittan, and former Defence chief, Lord Bramall, were found to be groundless.
Wiltshire Chief Constable Mike Veale regards the allegations as ‘totally convincing’, and plans to publish a report in June
Allegations that Sir Edward was involved in satanic orgies have been dismissed as fantasy by an expert asked to review the case.
However, The Mail on Sunday has been told that Mr Veale believes the paedophile allegations are genuine. A source said: ‘Mr Veale believes in them 120 per cent and thinks they are totally convincing.
‘There are very close similarities in the accounts given by those who have come forward. The same names used for him, the same places and same type of incidents keep coming up.
‘What stands out is that the people giving these accounts are not connected but the stories and the details dovetail.
‘It contains disturbing stuff. Investigators have been shocked by what they have learned.’
Another source said: ‘The police were initially sceptical about the allegations, but now believe them. And they have come round to the view that they were covered up in the past because of who Heath was.
DO THESE PHOTOS UNDERMINE EX PM’S DEFENCE?
Sir Edward Heath seen with his car in Weymouth, despite claims he never drove
These are the photographs that appear to disprove the notion that the allegations against Sir Edward cannot be true because he ‘never drove a car’ and was always accompanied by police.
Both were taken in October 1975. In the main picture on the right, Heath is standing by the driver’s door of the Rover 2000 he bought after Margaret Thatcher ousted him as Tory leader in February that year. In the picture on the left, he is seen arriving at the Tory Party conference in Blackpool – in the driver’s seat.
The Mail on Sunday has learned that Wiltshire Police has also obtained photographic evidence of him driving.
The issue was first raised by former Cabinet Secretary Lord Armstrong, who worked with Sir Edward in No 10. Lord Armstrong said Sir Edward – whom he described as ‘asexual’ – had a 24-hour police guard and driver from the day he became PM in 1970 to his death in 2005, and did not have his own car.
‘When he was at home he had two policemen on the gate, he had the personal protection officer from Scotland Yard in the house, he never drove a car himself, he always had an official driver,’ said Lord Armstrong. ‘It seems highly unlikely he could have escaped all that to do the kind of thing that is described.’
Sir Edward Heath again pictured driving, this time leaving leaves the conference for the sea breezes of Weymouth
Sir Edward bought the Rover after losing the chauffeur-driven car he was entitled to as Prime Minister, then Opposition leader.
A confidant of the former PM said: ‘He definitely could and did drive, though was a notoriously bad one. When he went to music concerts in Salzburg and hired a car, he was meant to drive it because his British police guards weren’t officially allowed to.
‘But they insisted as they were frightened he was going to crash.’
‘They will not be deflected by the rich and powerful trying to do the same now. Mike Veale is doing a great job and should be congratulated for his courage.’
The disclosures come after several senior politicians dismissed the allegations against Heath as absurd and unfounded. Former Tory Foreign Secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind complained Heath’s reputation was being ‘besmirched’. Heath’s sexuality has been the source of much speculation over the years. Some believed he was gay, others said he was ‘asexual.’ At one point, he was being investigated by no fewer than five police forces – the Met, Wiltshire, Hampshire, Kent and Jersey.
The claims, some of which have been proved false, include alleged links to a convicted brothel keeper known as Madame Ling-Ling. A paedophile dossier compiled by Labour peer Baroness Castle said he offered young boys trips on his yacht, and in a separate incident one man claimed Sir Edward picked him up hitchhiking in Kent as a 12-year-old in the 1960s and lured him to his Mayfair flat.
Labour MP Tom Watson also said he had received allegations about Sir Edward. However the claims Mr Veale is investigating, which date from the 1960s to 1990s, are not linked to the discredited evidence of the man known as ‘Nick’, who alleged a high-level paedophile ring.
One of the key counter-claims made when the allegations first surfaced came from former Cabinet Secretary Lord Armstrong, who worked with Heath when he was Prime Minister. He said Heath ‘never drove a car’ and always had at least one policeman with him from 1970 until his death in 2005.
Labour MP Tom Watson also said he had received allegations about Sir Edward
The fact that Sir Edward could drive was confirmed last night by a friend, who said the former Prime Minister bought a car in 1975, although Sir Edward was later given a chauffeur-driven car and police guard after IRA death threats.
Asked if Mr Veale believed the allegations against Sir Edward were ‘totally convincing’, a police spokesman said the Chief Constable was determined to ‘ensure the investigation is proportionate, measured and legal’ and that the job of the police was to ‘impartially investigate allegations without fear or favour and go where the evidence takes us. It is not the role of the police to judge the guilt or innocence of people in our criminal justice system.’
Further asked if Mr Veale had ‘120 per cent’ faith in the allegations, the spokesman declined to comment.
Police refuse to call off the dogs after VIP child sex ring fiasco
Launched in 2015 to investigate allegations against Sir Edward Heath, Operation Conifer has been dogged by claims that it traduces the reputation of a Prime Minister who died more than a decade ago and could not be put on trial.
The operation, which has a staff of 17 and has run up a bill approaching £1 million, did not get off to a good start when Wiltshire Chief Constable Mike Veale had to apologise for launching it in front of cameras outside Sir Edward’s former house, Arundells, in Salisbury.
Demands to call it off grew last November when Scotland Yard was forced to abandon its Operation Midland investigation into similar claims of a VIP paedophile ring in Westminster.
After a flurry of false accusations, Commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe apologised to former Defence chief Lord Bramall, ex-Tory MP Harvey Proctor, DJ Paul Gambaccini and Lady Brittan, widow of the late Lord Brittan.
A police officer stands at the gate of Arundells, the former home of Heath when the probe was launched
Pressure on Operation Conifer mounted after this newspaper revealed how an expert, brought in by police to assess claims that Heath was linked to paedophiles who held satanic orgies, dismissed them as fantasy.
Days after The Mail on Sunday report, Mr Veale came out fighting and insisted Operation Conifer was not a ‘witch-hunt’.
In a surprise statement released on December 2, he said he refused to ‘buckle’ to demands to abandon the inquiry, and stressed his officers had not spoken to ‘Nick’, the man at the root of Operation Midland.
The Heath investigation was not a ‘fishing trip’, he said, adding that he was ‘duty-bound’ to go ahead with it ‘without fear or favour and go where the evidence takes us’.
He accused his critics of ignorance, and rebuked them for using ‘inappropriate and unacceptable pressure’ in an attempt to halt the inquiry.
Mr Veale said a ‘significant number of individuals’ had alleged abuse, but refused to say how many or give details of the only two people to be arrested.
He even said the findings of the investigation may never be made public, stating: ‘A confidential closing report will be written… and at that time I will take advice as to what I can legally put in the public domain.’
Police were ‘testing, checking and challenging the evidence and ensuring our approach is proportionate and justified’, he said.
Mr Veale argues that although Sir Edward died in 2005, other offenders may still be alive and victims could require support.
‘If the force had received allegations of non-recent child abuse against a former Prime Minister and done nothing, what would the reaction have been?’
Margaret Thatcher and Edward Heath at the Conservative Party Conference in Blackpool
Lincoln Seligman, Sir Edward’s godson, responded to Mr Veale’s December statement by saying: ‘If they have uncovered no evidence after 18 months they should say so.
And if Conifer is wound up, [Sir Edward] deserves to be exonerated as publicly as he was initially smeared. Shuffling the inquiry’s findings off into the night is not acceptable.’
Other aspects of Operation Conifer have also come under fire. Wiltshire Police interviewed key figures at Private Eye because the satirical magazine joked about unmarried Sir Edward’s sexuality 40 years ago.
They wanted to know if its nickname for him, ‘Sailor Ted’, in his days as PM from 1970 to 1974, was a reference to rumours that he was gay.
Police even asked current editor Ian Hislop what he knew about Heath, despite Hislop being a teenager during the period under investigation.
Officers have also tracked down former Downing Street staff to ask them if young men were ever sneaked into No 10.
Times writer and ex-Tory MP Matthew Parris dismissed the allegations, saying: ‘If Heath was a child abuser, I’m an aardvark.’