There is an overwhelming - some say unanswerable - case for an independent review of a number of allegations of child sex abuse made against Ted Heath after his death which were left unresolved at the end of a deeply flawed police investigation, known as Operation Conifer, in 2017.
Alistair Lexden has brought the issue before the House of Lords on a number of occasions in the last five years. He returned to it again on 24 October, following a significant development: the conviction and sentencing of the chief constable who led Operation Conifer in Wiltshire for subsequent misconduct in Cleveland. He said:
“May I first express sincere thanks for the support that I, the noble Lord Bach and cross-party allies, received from all quarters of the House during the long period before Mike Veale, former chief constable first of Wiltshire and then of Cleveland, was found guilty of gross misconduct and barred from policing for life ?
In view of that July judgement, is it not imperative to carry out an independent review of the seven allegations made against Sir Edward Heath long after his death, which Veale failed to clear up after a long investigation that one of his officers contemptibly publicised on television in front of Ted Heath’s house in Salisbury?
Must there not be a suspicion—a strong suspicion—that Veale left these allegations open, neither proved nor disproved, to save face after failing to find a single shred of evidence to support any of the accusations, despite getting his officers to rifle through all of Heath’s private papers, box after box, in the Bodleian Library during an operation that cost over £1million, paid for by the Home Office?
Finally, do we not owe it to the memory of a dead statesman, the only First Minister of the Crown ever to be suspected of such serious criminal offences, to get at the truth of this grave matter, and settle the doubts created by the disgraced Veale?”
As on previous occasions, the call for an independent review was backed on all sides of the House with no dissenting views. The Home Office - and thus the Government as a whole - were isolated in their refusal to do the right thing.
The Home office Minister in the Lords claimed it was for the local police and crime commissioner “to consider whether an inquiry is necessary”. There is in fact no reason why the Government should not institute an inquiry, as previous Ministers have made clear over the years. The current Minister also said that Conifer “has already been subject to considerable external scrutiny.” That is true, but the scrutiny of Veale’s work was carried out by senior policemen, some of them well-known to him and therefore lacking sufficient independence.
As an acute outside observer with long experience of police misconduct remarked, the Home Office is “either lazy or gullible, to put it mildly.”
And so there is now a real risk that a recent prime minister will pass into history—and into the history books—under an undeserved cloud because this so-called Conservative Government “ does not see the grounds for government intervention” in the words of the Lords Home Office Minister.” Those grounds stare them in the face.