Boat boy: Sir Edward Heath, former prime minister
04.10.17 Look out for later related articles
By Mark Watts
Wiltshire Police’s chief constable is “sick to death” of repeated past failures to investigate prominent people for child sexual abuse properly.
Mike Veale has told friends that he is “appalled” by the discoveries of ‘Operation Conifer’, his force’s national investigation into allegations against Sir Edward Heath, former prime minister.
More than 30 people have come forward to Operation Conifer to claim that Ted Heath sexually abused them as children. Investigators found that several of them had long ago made complaints to police forces around the country, but officers had failed to follow them up properly.
A source close to Veale said: “He was appalled. He was just sick to death of people covering up for people.”
The disclosure helps explain why Veale has remained resolute despite intense public and private pressure to drop the operation.
A second friend of Veale said that the chief constable was feeling “persecuted”.
Friends and former colleagues of Heath insist that he is innocent.
Wiltshire Police is due to publish a summary report on Thursday. I revealed last month how police delayed publication of Operation Conifer’s summary report to avoid overshadowing the Conservative party conference with its conclusion that detectives would interview Heath under caution if he were still alive.
A third source said: “Mike knows that he is going to have a shit storm.”
I can reveal today:
The NPCC carried out its review via ‘Operation Hydrant’, which co-ordinates investigations into allegations against prominent people of child sexual abuse.
Operation Hydrant, headed by another chief constable, Simon Bailey, of Norfolk Constabulary, asked Wiltshire Police in 2015 to lead the national investigation into Heath after more than a dozen police forces launched their own cases in response to people who came forward.
Meanwhile, the picture above of Heath in a small sailing boat with what appears to be a teenage boy and an adult male has emerged. It is not thought to have been published before, but is understood to have been taken in Jersey in 1972, while Heath was prime minister. Its copyright owner is unknown. Anyone with information about the picture is asked to come forward.
[Update: readers have, as requested, provided further information about the picture, which appears to have been taken in Nice in 1965. The man with Heath seems to be his friend, Madron Seligman. The boy in the boat seems to be his son, Lincoln, who was aged around 15 at the time and is one of Heath’s godsons.]
Despite claims that Heath never drove, Operation Conifer found that he owned two cars. I can also reveal that it discovered that he had two sets of numbers plates for one of them, and can find no explanation for this irregular arrangement.
Operation Conifer’s summary report says that officers would need to carry out further investigative work if Heath were still alive, according to well-placed sources.
This includes interviewing Heath under caution in relation to seven men who came forward to allege sexual abuse. Officers regard another two witnesses as only just falling short of that threshold.
The third source said: “They are being ultra-cautious.”
Many of the other complainants suffer mental health problems. Although officers believe the vast majority of them, they conclude that all but a few could not withstand going through the criminal-justice system.
Their view underlines a continuing prejudice against survivors of child sexual abuse, especially those attacked by prominent people.
The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) published guidance that touches on this issue in 2013, which says: “It is recognised that some adult victims of childhood sexual abuse may suffer severe mental health problems as a result of their experience and may never be able to give evidence in court. However, it should not be overlooked that they may have important information which might be of assistance in supporting the account given by other victim(s) against the same offender(s).”
The first source said that officers recognised that this guidance applies to many of their witnesses, saying: “Many are, inevitably, very damaged by the very abuse about which they are complaining.”
The summary report details at length the procedures used to investigate the allegations, especially from the seven most credible witnesses.
Impress has adjudicated on a complaint about the same article published on Byline, for which it acts as a regulator, specifically the paragraph about the photograph.
The passage on Byline said: “The picture above of Heath in a small sailing boat with what appears to be a teenage boy and an adult male has emerged (there is a better crop of the picture on the FOIA Centre’s website). It is not thought to have been published before, but is understood to have been taken in Jersey in 1972, while Heath was prime minister. Its copyright owner is unknown. Anyone with information about the picture is asked to come forward.”
As was noted in an update posted following that paragraph, readers provided further information about the picture, which appears to have been taken in Nice in 1965, the man with Heath seems to be his friend, Madron Seligman, and the boy in the boat seems to be his son, Lincoln, who was aged around 15 at the time and is one of Heath’s godsons. Lincoln Seligman has publicly defended Heath from allegations investigated under Operation Conifer.
Impress found that the details of where and when the picture was taken in the paragraph were “inaccurate”, and the update an “insufficient” correction. It also found that the photograph bore “no direct relevance” to the article.
Its finding is wholly absurd. For example, Impress failed to take any account of the media practice in the internet age of appealing to readers for further information.
The case has also exposed fundamental flaws in Impress’s practices and procedures. It reached an initial adjudication based, ironically enough, on serious falsehoods. In a further serious failing, it neglected to put key points to me for response, or, it turned out, even to Byline.
After I drew these errors to the attention of Impress, it failed to ensure that its second attempt at an adjudication was not seriously compromised, in particular by its first go.
Impress even failed to notify me of its ultimate adjudication. I only found out when someone else told me about it the day after its release. Impress is a shambles.