Smear­ing the dead

The Week - - Politics | News -

“David Icke started it,” said Do­minic Law­son in The Sun­day Times. The con­spir­acy the­o­rist and self-styled “son of God” pub­lished a book in 1998 as­sert­ing that the for­mer prime min­is­ter Ed­ward Heath was “a prac­tis­ing Satanist, pae­dophile and child-killer”. Per­haps Heath should have sued, but given that Icke also claimed Heath had the abil­ity to turn into a 12ft lizard, he prob­a­bly thought it not worth the ef­fort. “Who could pos­si­bly be­lieve the rav­ings of a lu­natic?” The an­swer, un­for­tu­nately for his rep­u­ta­tion, was: Wilt­shire Po­lice. Last week, the force pub­lished its re­port on Op­er­a­tion Conifer, a two-year in­quiry into whether Heath was in­deed “a Satanist, pae­dophile and child-killer”. The re­port is a “pa­thetic” at­tempt to jus­tify a deeply flawed op­er­a­tion that rode roughshod over the pre­sump­tion of in­no­cence. This was all too ev­i­dent when, on 3 Au­gust 2015, Su­per­in­ten­dent Sean Mem­ory stood out­side Heath’s for­mer home in Sal­is­bury and ap­pealed on na­tional TV for “vic­tims” of the for­mer PM to come for­ward.

There has been “a pub­lic rush to judge­ment” over this case, with some com­men­ta­tors “cry­ing witch-hunt”, said Gaby Hinsliff in The Guardian. But we sim­ply don’t know what the truth of the mat­ter is. All we do know is that 42 claims were made against Heath. Wilt­shire Po­lice dis­missed more than 30 of them, but seven met the thresh­old for in­ter­view: had Heath still been alive, po­lice would have ques­tioned him un­der cau­tion. The out­come is cer­tainly “un­sat­is­fac­tory”. Ei­ther a dead man has been smeared base­lessly, or a pow­er­ful politi­cian has got away with ter­ri­ble crimes. But it would have been a “dere­lic­tion of duty” on Wilt­shire Po­lice’s part not to in­ves­ti­gate: far too of­ten, vic­tims of abuse have been ig­nored be­cause they were not deemed cred­i­ble.

That rather misses the point, said Matthew Scott in The Daily Tele­graph. Say­ing that Heath would have been in­ter­viewed “tells us al­most noth­ing”: there is a very low ev­i­den­tiary bar for this. The Op­er­a­tion Conifer re­port “con­sists of 109 pages of self-jus­ti­fi­ca­tion and vir­tu­ally no ev­i­dence of any kind”. It fails to make any sort of case against Heath, but “equally fails to lift the mi­asma of sus­pi­cion that will prob­a­bly now sur­round him for all time”. It does not re­veal that the most se­ri­ous al­le­ga­tion was made by a con­victed child abuser, and was in­ves­ti­gated by the Metropoli­tan Po­lice, who de­cided not to pur­sue it fur­ther. Since Jimmy Sav­ile’s crimes were ex­posed, Bri­tain has be­come wor­ried that there may be other well-con­nected abusers like him, said The Times. The re­sult has been a se­ri­ous over­re­ac­tion: wit­ness Op­er­a­tion Mid­land, which saw sev­eral es­tab­lish­ment fig­ures hounded on the ev­i­dence of a “fan­ta­sist”. Conifer is a sim­i­lar story. Heath was ac­cused of killing boys and throw­ing their bod­ies from his yacht. It was never even vaguely prob­a­ble. “Wilt­shire Po­lice’s de­sire to jus­tify its ac­tions, even now, shows an un­will­ing­ness to ac­cept how much it has blun­dered.”

Heath: al­le­ga­tions of abuse

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