Smearing the dead
“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.”