12.10.17 Look out for later related articles
By Mark Watts

Wiltshire Police chief constable Mike Veale warns that the overarching inquiry into child sexual abuse may be hampered by an absence of “pro-active investigative capability”.

The officer who led ‘Operation Conifer’, the national investigation into Sir Edward Heath, the late former prime minister, hopes that the inquiry will take over the momentum on investigating a possible establishment cover-up over child sexual abuse (CSA).

He spoke to me in an exclusive interview last Thursday, hours after publication of Operation Conifer’s summary report. I revealed last weekend how Veale had branded as “highly inappropriate” attempts by Keith Vaz, Labour MP, to interfere with his force’s two-year investigation into Ted Heath.

Asked what lessons he drew from Operation Conifer, Veale said: “I have been really struck over the last two years by the amount of people that have come to me privately to offer views about their distrust of the political establishment, that is probably the best way to describe it, and their genuine belief that there has been conspiracy, cover-up and people being complicit, whether that is senior civil servants, colleagues in policing, government, the wider judiciary.”

The country needed to address this “sinister undercurrent that may or may not exist.”

He continued: “That is what I have been surprised about. That’s not Mike Veale saying that, that’s just because you are in the eye of the story, people make contact with you.”

Did he believe these suggestions? “I am absolutely not a conspiracy theorist. I just don’t know. I don’t know.”

“In the context of my not being a conspiracy theorist and having been a police officer for 33 years, some of the people I have spoken to are intelligent, bright, laudable and compelling people in their own right.

“The unfortunate thing is, I can’t make a judgement in relation to the assertions that they’re making. I simply don’t know.”

On a similar theme, Veale told the Mail on Sunday’s political editor, Simon Walters, last week: “It needs someone to look into the potential for cover-up or a conspiracy.”

He added: “The boil needs to be lanced.”

Veale believes that Operation Conifer has gone some way to restore public confidence in the police’s ability to investigate allegations as serious as those against Heath.

He told me: “My hope is that those people who have that inherent distrust take reassurance from what we have done in Wiltshire Police.”

But he urged the CSA inquiry, launched by Theresa May as home secretary in 2014, to take up that challenge.

He said: “I think a wider reassurance needs to be provided by the independent inquiry into child sexual abuse because if you have compelling terms of reference, the next question – the obvious question for me – is, how are you going to deliver on them?

“Because, of course, they don’t have a pro-active investigative capability. They may have limited investigative capability, but I’m not sure they’re set up.”

Should the inquiry develop this capability? “I think that that is not a matter for me.” It is an issue that “sits fairly and squarely” with the government and Alexis Jay, inquiry chairwoman, he said.

I asked the inquiry for a response. A spokeswoman said: “The inquiry employs more than 200 staff in a range of roles. It has the investigative resource that it considers necessary at present.

“If, in future, the task requires additional skills to those currently available, it will advertise for those roles.”

A document revealed at an inquiry hearing on Monday showed how the Security Service, MI5, knew that the prosecutor’s office lied to journalists by denying that police had in 1970 sent a file for decisions on multiple charges against Sir Cyril Smith, before he became a Liberal MP, of child sexual abuse. Other documents obtained by the inquiry suggested that Margaret Thatcher, as prime minister, approved a knighthood for him despite knowing about the police investigation.

As I reported on Saturday, Veale was warned early in Operation Conifer that he could lose his job over the investigation into Heath.

Perhaps the establishment should be careful about haranguing him out of his job. He could become the investigative boost – and reassurance for abuse survivors – that the inquiry may end up needing.

Mark Watts (@MarkWatts_1), co-ordinator of the FOIA Centre, is the former Editor-in-Chief of Exaro. This article also appears today on Byline. Part 3 of Mike Veale’s interview with Mark Watts will run later this week.

Comment on this article

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CSA inquiry lacks ‘investigative capability’ to probe ‘cover-up’ claims, warns Mike Veale
Challenge: Alexis Jay
Pic: CSA inquiry
Lessons: Mike Veale
Pic: Wiltshire Police