Leading article

Edward Heath and a very modern witch-hunt

The police and several high-profile politicians have behaved badly over this scandal

8 August 2015

9:00 AM

8 August 2015

9:00 AM

There was a grim inevitability that the name Edward Heath would one day be trawled up in connection with allegations of sexual abuse of children. As one of our few unmarried prime ministers, Heath always attracted speculation about his sexuality. The public image of a private man wedded to his career, content to spend his spare time playing music and sailing, has long given way to a presumption that he must have been a repressed homosexual. Because of our national obsession with paedophilia, this in turn has all too easily morphed into the suspicion that he had a sexual interest in underage boys.

Anyone who tells the police that they were sexually assaulted as a child should be taken seriously, whatever the social and professional status of the alleged abuser. There was a time when such people were likely to be given the brush-off, but that does not mean we should leap to believe every accusation without waiting for the results of a proper investigation. The police and several high-profile politicians have conducted themselves badly over the Heath scandal.

What sparked this week’s news frenzy is a very tenuous 20-year-old case. An alleged brothel-keeper was the subject of an investigation which was apparently dropped after the woman threatened to make allegations against Heath in the dock. There are many reasons why someone in her position might, as a last throw of the dice, resort to such a threat. But even if she did genuinely believe there to be substance behind her allegations, she was not claiming to be a victim herself. The woman’s ‘evidence’ seems merely to be hearsay. Yet on this alone, Wiltshire police this week staged a press conference outside Heath’s former home in Salisbury and appealed for ‘victims’ to come forward. This repeated what has become standard procedure for police forces investigating allegations of historic child abuse: a piece of theatre is put on in order to publicise the fact that a well-known person is under investigation, accompanied by a public appeal for others to make claims. This week’s events echoes last year’s search of Sir Cliff Richard’s Berkshire home, down to its timing during the August ‘silly season’ when news can be hard to come by. On that occasion, the BBC was tipped off and duly sent a helicopter to film the police arriving. Twelve months on, Sir Cliff has been charged with nothing.


The police, in defence of this rigmarole, argue that people who were abused as children are often shy of reporting any offence. They say these victims suffer feelings of guilt and shame, but might be persuaded to come forward if they can see that they will not be alone in making the allegations.

While there might be some logic in this reasoning, it is also true that a public invitation will also encourage fantasists and compensation hunters. This is a risk which seems not to have occurred to the police, despite what has happened in the Jimmy Savile case. Many claims against Savile are genuine; some were made after his death, others while he was still alive. Yet since the High Court approved a £3 million compensation scheme in February last year, the number of claims has mushroomed to over 200. Legal firms have placed adverts imploring ‘victims’ to come forward, much in the same way as they have been doing for years in cases of whiplash after a car accident.

One of the lawyers handling claims reminds people wanting to take advantage of the scheme that they will ‘need some evidence to show you were in a situation where Savile will have had an opportunity to abuse you’. To determine guilt on the evidence that someone had the opportunity to commit a crime, rather than on any evidence that they took advantage of that opportunity, is not what we think of as British justice.

There is a legitimate case for pursuing child abuse cases from decades ago, even if the chances of uncovering the truth diminishes as time passes. Many alleged offences were not satisfactorily investigated at the time, but we have gone — as Charles Moore notes on p. 11 — from one extreme to another, from a climate in which victims were routinely dismissed as liars to one where any claim, however spurious, leads to the public shaming of the alleged offender. This is a situation that the police — and the forthcoming independent inquiry led by Justice Lowell Goddard — need urgently to address. When historic claims are made, they need to be subjected to a serious test before they are publicised in any way — not least by asking: did the alleged victim make any complaint at the time and if not, why not?

At present, the police and those politicians who have made a name for themselves by ‘witch-hunting’ too often exude an air of accusation. Those who are being accused deserve the presumption of innocence until proven guilty.

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  • Aldo

    A brave and accurate piece that provides a much needed beginning to Heath’s defence, other than the good ol’ boys mumbling about him being a “decent sort”.

  • WFB56

    It seems that barely a week goes by without the police service further eroding public confidence in them as they join the Crown Prosecution Service in a race to the bottom.

  • Teacher

    This is a difficult case, as indeed, are all cases where accusations can be made and proof impossible to produce. And it is true that the delusional, the publicity hungry and the pursuers of compensation are attracted to public appeals for victims. However, just to offer some background, I was a teenager from 1969 and I can remember quite clearly the absolute certain knowledge gained from friends and personal experience that all boys and many (most?) adult men were constantly on the prowl for sexual contact with all women and, particulary, young teenage girls. Nearly every girl I knew had been approached by older men, often teachers or fathers of other children and we all knew to keep our defences up at all times. Blond girls covered their hair in the street at night so as not to attract attention. Two of my near relations were raped after encounters with men in pubs who ‘picked them up’. I could go on with other examples. I don’t know what it is like for young women now but I remember the almost constant fear then, and fear not only of a physical encounter, but also of the contempt and disgust in which young women were held.

    • Yorkieeye

      True, I was sexually assaulted by my GP when I was 16/17 but didn’t report him as people still had an overweening respect for doctors in the 1970s. I don’t feel especially damaged by the incidents but I am glad that there is now so much more awareness and that those in authority know that they can’t get away with it anymore.

    • JamesCovey123

      “Two of my near relations were raped after encounters with men in pubs who ‘picked them up’.”

      Thus demonstrating that they were not afraid of men – which somewhat contradicts much of your post.

      ” but also of the contempt and disgust in which young women were held.”

      Strange. I have never come across any men who feel that way about young women. Most of the men whom I have known rather like women – not just sexually, but as people.

    • Jackthesmilingblack

      Blonde, women
      Blond, men
      Not many people know this.

      • Barry Stuart-Hargreaves

        Certainly not teachers.

    • Colonel Mustard

      What a load of hyperbolic tripe.

    • Jackthesmilingblack

      Have you noticed that the it’s lower orders that are more likely to have their teenage daughters raped, murdered and dumped in a ditch? Resisting a date rape approach markedly increases the risk. Consider the life style: Regularly stay out all night, sexually active at under 16. I’m not blaming the victim, rather weighing the percentages. If Japan is Disneyland, Britain’s a maximum security prison, nonce, pervert and rapist wing.
      Jack, the Japan Alps Brit

  • BillRees

    In my opinion Ted Heath was the worst Prime Minister in my lifetime.

    But dragging his name through the mud like this is truly sickening.

    It seems now that virtually any dead politician, especially if he is a Tory, is fair game for certain sections of the media, aided and abetted by the police.

  • John Carins

    Heath was not a decent sort. He could not bide Thatcher and resented her in a rather jealous and childish manner. He did not understand how democracy worked or cared much for it: That’s why he took us into the EU. We all became victims of his repressed feelings

    • GUBU

      Would you like the telephone number for Wiltshire Police?

      I’m sure that they’d be more than happy to assign a few detectives to investigate Mr Heath’s petulance if you want to make a formal complaint about it.

      • Yvonne Stuart-Hargreaves

        Heath loved sailing but chose to live 23 miles inland next to Salisbury Cathedral Choir school.

        • Peter Stroud

          So?

          • Sean Lamb

            Obviously he preferred High C’s to the High Seas

          • Yvonne Stuart-Hargreaves

            When moving to Salisbury city centre, notoriously traffic jammed in summer, Heath claimed he did so as it was convenient for the Solent……..24 miles away…as opposed to say Hamble or Southampton environs, Romsey even.

          • Peter Stroud

            Right Insp Clouseau, but remember that Heath was a more than competent organist and conductor, and enjoyed choral music. He also enjoyed playing the organ. The places you suggest have neither a choir, or a full size concert organ. And, by the way, he loved his house, or is that strange as well?

          • Barry Stuart-Hargreaves

            Have you not heard of Romsey Abbey? 155 year old organ. Portsmouth cathedral too. Southampton Guildhall had a theatre organ and St Mary’s Church a decent one too. Sadly no choir schools though.

          • Lynn Noreen Mcnamara

            talk about hung drawn and quartered prior to trial! what is the matter with you? hope you are never called to jury service!

          • Lynn Noreen Mcnamara

            where do you live? we could analyze everyone’s address, but it would be bordering on the ridiculous.

          • Yvonne Stuart-Hargreaves

            So draw your own convulsion.

          • Lynn Noreen Mcnamara

            how do you know? Barry! were you there?

        • GUBU

          Such compelling, deductive logic – I’m guessing that you are a Detective Chief Inspector with Wiltshire Police.

        • Lawrence James.

          Astounding ! Sir Francis Drake lived some distance from the sea, and wore tights and a frilly ruff. And there were boys on his ships. You must inform Devon police immediately.

          • Yvonne Stuart-Hargreaves

            When Sir Francis Drake was around , trousers did not exist. Drake had a job on the sea, not a passion or hobby. Heath was dodgy.

          • Lynn Noreen Mcnamara

            we are all discussing an individual that is dead and we did not know him on a personal level, this is most unfair, remember the retired teacher accused of a murder, the photos in the media that made him look the part! he was innocent!

          • Lynn Noreen Mcnamara

            yes indeed! things have become a little crazy. let’s just get a grip!

        • Lynn Noreen Mcnamara

          Oh! come on! he loved music too! lets get real here.

      • John Carins

        “Petulant” – excellent summary of the man.

    • Lynn Noreen Mcnamara

      that does not make him a child sex offender though does it? I always remember him as the person that gave us all the same wage increase, never before and never since! and it was a substantial increase too for the likes of me!

      • John Carins

        I remember the 3 day week.

  • rtj1211

    Perhaps you would tell your ‘bloggers’ that more Conservatives have been convicted of sex crimes than Liberal Democrats. It doesn’t stop them claiming that the Liberal Democrats ‘are a refuge for paedos’…..

    The Barclay stable’s ‘bloggers’ make any attempt to demand good treatment for Conservatives untenable, as they refuse to provide it for others.

    I am not against Conservative principles, I am implacably opposed to Conservative hypocrisy….

    • Owen_Morgan

      Any other straw men you’d care to deploy?

    • Owen_Morgan

      I’d point out, in addition, that the Conservatives have existed for rather longer than the LibDims. One of the characteristics of the late coalition was the way in which it threw into relief the contrasts between the “Liberals” and the “[Social] Democrats” in the party, reminding us that the LibDim party, as such, doesn’t have a very long history.

      Also, it doesn’t have a particularly stellar success rate in getting its members elected, which could explain why paedophiles with LibDim affiliations tend to avoid attention for their political opinions.

      I doubt if child abuse is more prevalent, proportionately, among any one political party than among any other, but your insinuation that the Conservatives are protecting their own is pretty silly. In case you hadn’t noticed, the UK had a Labour government from 1997 to 2010 and a coalition up until May. It also has a decidedly left-leaning national broadcaster, which would have leapt at the chance of exposing scandalous Conservative crimes at the earliest opportunity.

      As for Heath, I think he was a disastrous Prime Minister and, from people who met him, thoroughly unpleasant. He was decidedly misogynistic and didn’t give the impression that he liked the other half of humanity very much, either.

      That doesn’t make him a criminal – not in his private life, anyway.

      • Yvonne Stuart-Hargreaves

        Misogynist yes. He definitely did not like women. Boy did he not like women, oh boy no.Boy oh boy he must have liked something else. Not the Bhoys he used when sailing either. Good old boy.

        • Owen_Morgan

          “Bhoy” tends to refer to a supporter of Celtic Football Club. I think that that the word you were looking for was “buoy”.

          • Yvonne Stuart-Hargreaves

            Oh yes, thank you. But of course if Heath ever
            ventured to Glasgow it was backs to the wall for the Bhoys.

          • Lynn Noreen Mcnamara

            this is all getting very silly! bad things have gone on since time began! and all committed by the human race, there will always be wicked evil people within society, less of it is swept under the carpet now, but sadly it will always be a part of life

  • hdb

    Sad it has taken the trashing of the reputation of a former Prime Minister for the media finally to turn against this witchhunting. For several years now, week in week out, blogs such as AnnaRacoon.com have been exposing in detail the sheer nonsense behind many of the most prominent historic sexual abuse cases. I think nothing less than a state of limitations (similar to those found in the US and most other European jurisdictions) can ensure justice is done.

  • DennisMcScumbag

    no smoke without fire in most of these cases.

    • Peter Stroud

      ‘No smoke without fire.’ Four words probably the cause of more cases of injustice than any other words.

      • Lynn Noreen Mcnamara

        yes indeed! thank the Lord we no longer have the death penalty!
        we cannot bring people back to life if found to be not guilty!

      • johnmckeating

        I would say that “You are a witch” would be a contender.

  • MrJones

    So far this oh so terrible “witch hunt” has found that numerous political VIPs were allowed to get away with using children’s homes as their personal brothels for decades.

    That’s it.

    The only justice done so far is ta dent in the collective reputation of the political class and they begrudge even that tiny little bit of justice over the damage done to the – if the longest-running institutional cases only became so because an MP was involved – potentially many thousands of victims.

  • Owen_Morgan

    What should be criminal here is the kind of fishing expedition in which the
    police are engaged. Suppose that I claim to be the victim of a crime and some
    independent witness claims to have seen the crime; that is evidence.

    If, however, Person X claims to be a victim of a crime and Person Y claims to be
    the victim of a similar crime, committed by the same culprit, but on a
    different date, that, for me, is not supporting evidence for Person X.

    Nevertheless, similar standards of evidence (i.e. somewhat analogous allegations, without witnesses, or mutually supporting details) have been used before to
    send innocent people to prison and I’m appalled that the police seem to
    have learned nothing from the criticism rightfully received from such cases.

  • Sean Lamb

    As far as the Wiltshire brothel owner goes, more likely she was paying the local police commissioner kickbacks and he advised her to claim to know something so incredibly earth-shattering so as to justify him shutting down the case.
    Hence the claim about Ed Heath was just a piece of misdirection to cover up a far more mundane, boring and entirely local corruption.

  • Peter Stroud

    I am an old man, but you do not have to be old to be able to remember the days when a suspect was never named until he was arrested, or taken to court. But not now, oh no, especially if the subject of the inquiry is dead. Or especially if involves children, and sex. Now we have a man who died a decade ago, after a long life, most of which was spent serving the public, being named as a serial sex abuser. We all suspected that Grocer Ted was a bit of an odd ball – probably a closet homosexual. We now know that one allegation was made, and this led to Wiltshire Police, putting Heath’s name in the public domain, then asking for any other complainants to come forward. Then, like magic other constabularies joined in the race for complaints. Right, investigate, investigate well and if evidence of Heath committing a crime is proven: then publicise it. If not then tell all that the late old man is cleared.

  • Bodkinn

    I’m afraid the all the while financial
    compensation is a factor the accusations against any prominent person and
    especially the dead will continue apace.
    I never met Sir Edward but his whole public demeanour gave the
    impression that he would not have been capable of working up enough passion to
    rape a dead sheep. Listening to those
    who did know him well seems to bear this out.
    A lot of the public figures who were homosexual in the days before this
    was allowable (even now enjoying privileged status) plus those who were
    perverts would get married to use it as a cloak for their other selves (e.g.
    Oscar Wilde perhaps). Sir Edward never
    did this which even more inclines me to think he had nothing to hide. By not
    marrying he would have known that he would leave himself open to accusations. There
    are people who have very low sex drives and the indications are that he was
    one.

    • Rush_is_Right

      If Heath never married it was probably because the only person he ever loved was himself.

      • aspeckofboggart

        And your point is?

    • Yvonne Stuart-Hargreaves

      Was this the first time our PM was an old Queen?

    • JamesCovey123

      “I’m afraid the all the while financial compensation is a factor the accusations against any prominent person and especially the dead will continue apace.”

      Financial compensation is the main attraction for false accusers.

      Indeed, firms of lawyers tout this all over the internet in order to get as many allegations as possible.

      They also coach them in the art of coming up with good “evidence”.

      • Lynn Noreen Mcnamara

        whilst there is truth in what you say, we must not lose sight of the many genuine cases of individuals traumatised by evil wicked perpetrators. My heart goes out to them, there but for the grace of God I say!

  • jim

    We’ll see.If this turns out to be a smear we won’t be surprised but we won’t be shocked if it’s true either. Is there anyone in charge around here who isn’t compromised? If Heath is guilty so are his protection officers,his staff,……..

  • john

    Tory, PM, knighthood, met the Queen – can’t be guilty of anything!

  • albertcooper

    No doubt Edward Heath was an old auntie living on the fringes of same sex attraction.but now a rent boy sees money at the end of the tunnel !

    • Jackthesmilingblack

      “a rent boy sees money at the end of the tunnel”
      Nice one, albert

  • JamesCovey123

    “When historic claims are made, they need to be subjected to a serious
    test before they are publicised in any way — not least by asking: did
    the alleged victim make any complaint at the time and if not, why not?”

    Well said.

    Those who seriously harm innocent others are the pits, as far as I am concerned.

    But the Crown Prosecution Service and the MOJ seem to think that it is OK for them to publicise the names of those who have only been accused.

    How much lower can they sink?

    These people actually cause more harm to innocents than do the perpetrators themselves! After all, they hurt thousands of people, not just one or two.

    MANY of the accused also commit suicide as a result, and many times more lose their familes, their friends, their jobs – merely on the basis of an accusation.

    This really is an outrage.

  • Christopher Mooney

    And you wonder why abuse victims never come forward, against powerful celebrities?

  • Christopher Mooney

    The Tory media have been trying to discredit the investigation before it even starts. Powerful friends indeed

  • Christopher Mooney

    The investigation started as 7-8 people came forward and said they were abused as children. And that the police didn’t do anything

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