Ted Heath: inquiry into alleged witness tampering to stop child abuse claims

A police corruption inquiry is examining claims that witnesses to a court case were persuaded to withdraw their planned testimony against a brothel keeper in order to stop the exposure of Sir Edward Heath as an alleged child abuser.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) disclosed on Monday that it was investigating claims by a retired senior officer that Wiltshire police dropped a 1990s prosecution against a suspect because threats were made to expose the former prime minister as a paedophile.

It was announced on Thursday that at least six police forces nationwide are now carrying out investigations linked to child sex claims against Heath.

Also on Thursday the National Crime Agency (NCA), the law enforcement agency responsible for tackling serious and organised crime, confirmed that one person had contacted them with an allegation against Heath in July 2014, which was then passed on to the relevant authority, in this case Jersey police.

The Guardian understands that the information handed to the Wiltshire police force centres on the allegedly corrupt persuasion of prosecution witnesses in a case against former brothel keeper Myra Forde.

The disclosure follows the publication of a letter from Nigel Seed QC, who was the barrister in the 1992 case, in which he claimed he had been told that Forde intended to accuse Heath of using male sex workers in her trial, but that the case was dropped because three witnesses in the case refused to give evidence.

Forde, 67, who was ultimately convicted twice for running brothels, denied making any such threat, in a statement released by her solicitor.

A police source confirmed the IPCC inquiry would centre on evidence that witnesses were tampered with to stop abuse claims against Heath from coming into the public domain.

“Inquiries will look at whether witnesses in the court case were interfered with in some way. This follows information from the retired officer that are at the heart of the inquiry,” the source said.

The intervention goes some way to explain why the case was passed on by Wiltshire police to the IPCC in April this year without approaching Forde.

Because the allegations centred on police corruption, it would have been improper for the force to have contacted Forde or her solicitor before handing them over to the watchdog.

A spokeswoman for the IPCC said officers were continuing to investigate the “serious allegations”. She said: “Our investigation is gathering and assessing relevant evidence and as with any investigation we are following all relevant lines of inquiry in order to establish as clear a picture as possible of what happened.”

Seed, who is now a judge, wrote in his letter to the Times that there were a large number of reporters at Winchester crown court on the day the trial collapsed.

“I was informed by the police that this was because the defendant, who had been on bail, had let it be known that if the case progressed as far as her having to give evidence she intended to allege that she had provided rent boys to Edward Heath.”

Seed said there was no suggestion to him that the men were underage or “anything more than male prostitutes” and furthermore these were “unsubstantiated assertions”.

“The decision for the case to proceed no further was mine and was based on the lack of evidence and had nothing whatsoever to do with any potential allegations against Edward Heath,” he wrote.

Forde, 67, was later convicted on two separate occasions of offences related to running a brothel from a residential property in Salisbury, Wiltshire.

A nationally coordinated response to emerging allegations against Heath is seen as necessary to bring together a range of inquiries and is likely to be announced by the end of this week.

After the IPCC announced its inquiry, Wiltshire police launched a fresh appeal for any potential victims or witnesses of abuse by Heath to come forward and have so far received about 50 calls.

Shortly after, Jersey, Kent and Hampshire police forces confirmed they too were investigating claims against the former Tory leader.

On Thursday, Gloucestershire police and the Thames Valley force said they had also received information related to Heath which they are examining.

Scotland Yard said it had been approached in April with an allegation of abuse against Heath but there was not enough evidence for the force to pursue the claim.

The Guardian approached the remaining police forces in England and Wales, as well as constabularies in Scotland and Northern Ireland, none of which are currently investigating allegations, fresh or historical, into Heath.

Friends of Heath have been angered by the inquiries into him, saying that his reputation has been destroyed in a few days without a trial or a chance to answer back against anonymous allegations.

The Sir Edward Heath Charitable Foundation said: “We welcome the investigation by Wiltshire police, which we wholeheartedly believe will clear Sir Edward’s name, and we will cooperate fully with the police in their inquiries.”

Heath, who led the Conservative government between 1970 and 1974, died at home in Salisbury aged 89 in July 2005.

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/aug/06/ted-heath-inquiry-into-alleged-witness-tampering-to-stop-child-abuse-claims