Former British PM caught up in child sex abuse claim

A former prime minister was drawn into the complex web of historic child sex abuse allegations in Britain

Published: Updated:

A former prime minister was drawn into the complex web of historic child sex abuse allegations in Britain Monday, when the police watchdog announced an investigation involving 1970s leader Edward Heath.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) said it would investigate a claim from a retired senior policeman that prosecution of a person accused of child sex abuse in the 1990s was dropped when they threatened to expose Heath, who died in 2005.

Police appealed for anyone with information to come forward and noted that Heath, who was prime minister from 1970 to 1974 and led Britain into the European Economic Community, was a long-time resident of the English city of Salisbury.

"If you have been the victim of any crime from Sir Ted Heath or any historical sexual offence, or you are a witness or you have any information about this, then please come forward," said Superintendent Sean Memory.

While the IPCC's investigation is into alleged historic corruption rather than whether Heath committed a crime, it is the first time so a senior figure has been named in connection with such claims.

"It is alleged that a criminal prosecution was not pursued when a person threatened to expose that Sir Edward Heath may have been involved in offences concerning children," an IPCC spokesman said.

The IPCC will also investigate whether officers with Wiltshire Police in western England subsequently took any steps to investigate the claims about Heath's actions.

The probe is separate to a major, judge-led inquiry into child sexual abuse in British institutions such as the BBC, the National Health Service, children's homes and schools that was opened last month.

The Sir Edward Heath Charitable Foundation, to which the former leader of the centre-right Conservatives left his property when he died, said it was certain he would be exonerated.

"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," the statement said.

There has been a surge of complaints about child sex abuse since BBC presenter Jimmy Savile was exposed as a prolific and predatory paedophile after his death in 2011.

British police said in May they had received allegations of historic child sex abuse against 261 public figures, including 76 politicians.

The inquiry led by a judge into allegations of paedophilia in institutions has cited estimates that around one British child in every 20 has been sexually abused.