Edward Heath Would Have Faced Sex Abuse Inquiry, Say UK Police

Media playback is unsupported on your device                  Media caption Who was Edward Heath

The report found that of 42 allegations of abuse made against Sir Edward, seven would have warranted officers to interview him under caution had he been alive today.

The report says: "Further to a proportionate investigation, reasonable grounds exist that, if Sir Edward Heath had been alive today, he would have been interviewed under caution regarding his suspected involvement in an offence".

He conceded that due to the passage of time many investigative opportunities were not available, as memories had deteriorated and potentially relevant documents lost.

Heath, who was prime minister from 1970 to 1974 and died 12 years ago, would have been interviewed under caution over seven allegations including raping an 11-year-old boy and indecently assaulting men and other boys, one aged 10.

Other claims also related to "paid encounters", including one when he was trade minister, as well as during chance meetings.

The report has caused a backlash from defenders of the leader of the Conservative party from 1965 to 1975. This could be in the form of an independent review by a retired judge, with unrestricted access to all the evidence collected by the Wiltshire police.

"The safeguarding and protection of vulnerable people will continue to be out primary reasons for conducting this investigation".

The Bishop of Salisbury, Nicholas Holtam, this week defended Sir Edward: 'There is a relatively low threshold for being interviewed under caution, ' he wrote in the Church Times.

Operation Conifer was launched in 2015 after Sir Edward was named as a suspect in an investigation into historical child sex abuse.

While Lord Macdonald QC, a former director of public prosecutions, accused police of "covering their backs" at the expense of a man who can no longer defend himself.

In it, he said the decision to undertake the "incredibly complex and challenging investigation" was "not taken lightly", but added he would not be "buckling under pressure not to investigate or to conclude the investigation prematurely".

The first two assaults allegedly took place in 1961 and 1962 while Heath served as MP (Member of Parliament) for Bexley and Lord Privy Seal.

Heath was made Tory party leader a year later.

Wiltshire police chief constable Mike Veale said the findings were a "watershed moment" for those who believed that there had been a state cover-up for senior figures involved in child sexual abuse.

"It is important to state that the role of the police in a criminal investigation is not to reach a conclusion as to the likely guilt or innocence of a person who is subject to allegations".

"In line with the constituted powers of the inquiry, Wiltshire Police will, on receipt of further Section 21 notices, make available to IICSA any further material that it deems relevant to its terms of reference".

Veale denied the investigation into Heath was a "fishing expedition" or "witch hunt" and vowed not to bow to "unacceptable" media pressure.

It was announced past year that the probe had found no evidence the prosecution of brothel keeper Myra Ling-Ling Forde was dropped because of threats to publicly link Sir Edward to sex abuse.

A lifelong bachelor, he has been dogged by allegations about his private life, specifically questions about his sexuality and the claims of sexual abuse.