Westminster under suspicion as ex-PM faces child abuse claim
Heath led Britain between 1970 and 1974, taking it into the European Economic Community in 1973, and was known as a dour bachelor who loved sailing and classical music. He died in 2005 at the age of 89.
Now he has become the most senior figure to join the ranks of prominent Westminster politicians accused of sexually abusing children, many of them posthumously.
The story comes as Britain enters a crucial stage in its efforts to investigate claims that people in social elites repeatedly carried out and concealed child sex abuse in the second half of the 20th century.
“I’m in absolutely no doubt that there were a significant number of politicians and many others in high society… who were committing child sexual abuse and probably continue to do so,” Simon Danczuk, an MP with the main opposition Labour party and a leading campaigner on the issue, told Sky News television.
Whether Heath was among them is now the subject of fierce debate.
– Other politicians under suspicion –
Heath was drawn into the scandal after police watchdog the Independent Police Complaints Commission said Monday it would investigate a retired policeman’s claim that a prosecution was dropped in the 1990s when the accused threatened to expose the ex-premier.
The Daily Mirror newspaper on Tuesday carried a claim from a man alleging he was raped by Heath in 1961, aged 12.
The BBC also reported that Heath was now being directly investigated by Scotland Yard over child sex abuse claims.
Heath, who led Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservative party, is not the first politician accused of abuse.
Others include the late Leon Brittan, interior minister under prime minister Margaret Thatcher, and then a European commissioner; Cyril Smith, a Liberal MP who died in 2010; and Greville Janner, an ex-Labour MP and member of the House of Lords.
Last month, it emerged that in 1986, the MI5 intelligence service had urged a cover-up of claims that an unidentified MP “has a penchant for small boys”.
There are suggestions that children were abused at London’s exclusive Dolphin Square apartment complex near parliament, popular with MPs.
And police are investigating allegations that abusers, among them politicians, frequented the Elm Guest House in southwest London in the 1970s and 1980s.
Politicians make up just one element of the overall picture.
A vast judge-led inquiry was opened last month into child sexual abuse at a string of British institutions from parliament to the BBC, children’s homes to churches.
It cited estimates that around one British child in every 20 has been sexually abused.
The number of abuse allegations being made has surged since one of the BBC’s top presenters, Jimmy Savile, was exposed as a paedophile after his 2011 death.
– Claims ‘must be investigated’ –
Friends of Heath have leapt to his defence.
Brian Binley, a former Conservative MP, told BBC radio he found the allegations hard to believe, describing Heath as “a very private person” with a “very controlled” personal life.
“People say there’s no smoke without fire — well, there is sometimes smoke without fire, as we all know,” Binley said.
Robert Vaudry, Heath’s former private secretary, told The Times newspaper that when he worked for him from 1988 to 1992, he had a constant police accompaniment, as do all former premiers.
“It feels like a cheap shot and the fact is that he cannot defend himself because he is deceased,” Vaudry added.
Heath rarely spoke about his private life despite years of media insinuations that he was gay at a time when any public declaration of homosexuality would have impeded a top-flight political career.
Danczuk said it was important that abuse allegations should be looked into.
“However high someone has reached in society, even to the level of prime minister, if there are allegations, serious allegations of awful abuse, they need to be investigated,” he said.