Motion to Regret
That this House regrets the failure by Her Majesty’s Government to institute an independent inquiry into Operation Conifer conducted by the Wiltshire police into allegations of child sex abuse against Sir Edward Heath; and calls on Her Majesty’s Government to make proposals for an independent review of the seven unsubstantiated allegations left unresolved at the end of Operation Conifer.
My Lords, first, I welcome my noble friend Lady Barran to the Front Bench for what I think is her first debate in that important place.
As a reasonably loyal supporter of the Government, I derive no pleasure whatever from bringing forward this Motion, which levels serious criticism at them. My object is to provide an opportunity for the House to consider the Home Office’s wholly unsatisfactory response to the numerous requests for action made to it over the 14 months since the outcome of Operation Conifer became known.
In answering a series of Questions in this House, my noble friend Lady Williams of Trafford has made it absolutely clear to your Lordships that the Home Secretary does not believe that he should do anything at all to help put an end to the grave injustice that has been done posthumously to Sir Edward Heath. As a Knight of the Garter, Sir Edward was honoured by inclusion in the highest order of chivalry in our land. In death he has been dishonoured as the result of a deeply flawed police investigation into allegations of child sex abuse made against him.
The now notorious Operation Conifer conducted—misconducted, in the judgment of many people—by Wiltshire Police took two years and cost £1.5 million, of which £1.1 million came out of Home Office funds, placing responsibility for the operation’s very existence firmly with the Government. At its conclusion, seven of a total of 42 allegations made against Sir Edward were left open, neither proved nor disproved. Immense damage has been done to Sir Edward’s reputation. It will remain indelibly stained until the seven allegations have been cleared up.
I know of no one who does not regard this as a flagrant injustice. In today’s debate, we need to be absolutely clear about the Government’s stance. So I ask my noble friend: do the Government accept that Sir Edward Heath is the victim of a terrible injustice, which must be corrected? This is the first of four questions I shall put to the Government this evening.
I shall not dwell in detail on Operation Conifer. I do not think anyone has stepped forward to praise it. It has attracted only criticism—from legal experts, from informed commentators and from all those who believe in fairness, conspicuously represented in all parts of this House. One of the most memorable features of this remarkable police operation was the aggressive, belligerent behaviour of Wiltshire’s then chief constable, Mike Veale. Grave doubt was cast on his impartiality. He became the subject of widespread notoriety when he was quoted in a national newspaper as saying that he was “120 per cent” sure that Sir Edward was guilty. A statement by Wiltshire Police that followed was notable for its careful wording.
It is now clear that Mr Veale is not a man who believes that complete truthfulness is a requirement for the job of chief constable. An inquiry by the Independent Office for Police Conduct censured him in September this year for giving a false account of how he came to destroy his mobile telephone, an instrument widely thought to have contained information damaging to him in relation to Operation Conifer. Yet he remains a chief constable, translated from Wiltshire to distant Cleveland. The processes by which the most senior police officers are appointed in our country can contain puzzling elements. Cleveland’s reputation was not exactly outstanding, even before Mr Veale joined it.
Before the outcome of Operation Conifer was published in October last year, it was already obvious that an independent inquiry would be needed. In June 2017, Mr Angus Macpherson MBE, Wiltshire’s Conservative Police and Crime Commissioner, said that,
“an independent review of the evidence, perhaps by a retired judge, is required”.
Months of uncertainty followed.
In October, Mr Macpherson stated that he hoped that the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse would conduct the review that was needed. He added:
“Should the inquiry prove unable or unwilling to take this task on, I will reiterate my earlier call for the government to establish a judge-led review of the evidence”.
Rebuffed by the inquiry, Mr Macpherson was urged on a number of occasions to exercise the power he himself possesses to set up an inquiry. For a time he said he would; then he reneged on that commitment. Since April this year, it has been absolutely clear beyond the slightest doubt that this Conservative commissioner will not do his duty to a deceased Conservative statesman.
So we come to the worst aspect of this most distressing case: the evasion of responsibility. Mr Macpherson plainly deserves strong censure. However, all possibilities of securing redress for Sir Edward are not dashed by his dereliction of duty. In answer to several Oral Questions, my noble friend Lady Williams has stated that the Government have the power to set up the independent inquiry which, they fully accept, ought to be held. That is a crucial point on which the House needs to be absolutely clear. So I ask the Government to confirm that they do indeed have the power to establish an inquiry. That is the second of my four questions to the Government this evening.
Assuming that the answer is in line with the answers that have been given to recent Oral Questions, the Government could readily take action to secure justice for Sir Edward. However, they too evade responsibility. They constantly seek to pass it back to Mr Macpherson, despite his repeated repudiations of it. On 12 November, in answer to an Oral Question from me, my noble friend Lady Williams stated:
“Any review or inquiry, should one be carried out, should be a decision of the PCC”.
A few moments later, she repeated the point in answer to the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, saying that,
“an inquiry is a matter for the police and crime commissioner”.—[Official Report, 12/11/18; col. 1690.]
A grotesque version of pass the parcel has been played with a deceased statesman’s reputation.
Why on earth should a Member of the Government keep saying things that cannot produce any progress because the commissioner in question will not bestir himself? It can only be because the Government are determined not to exercise their power to institute an inquiry. Confirmation that this is indeed the case has seeped out in very brief comments made by my noble friend Lady Williams. Replying to a debate on 28 June, she told the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong of Ilminster, that,
“it would not be appropriate for the Government to step in”.—[Official Report, 28/6/18; col. 281.]
In a Written Answer to me on 29 October, she said:
“The Government does not consider there to be grounds for the Government to intervene”.
Those are no more than bald assertions. They are not explanations of why this Conservative Government have followed a Conservative commissioner in denying justice to a deceased Conservative statesman. So I ask the Government now: what are the reasons—the detailed factors—that have led them to make no use of their power to institute an inquiry? That is the third of my questions this evening.
The second part of my Motion to Regret calls on the Government to make proposals for an independent review of the seven unsubstantiated allegations left unresolved at the end of Operation Conifer. If they will not do their proper duty and institute an inquiry into the whole of Operation Conifer, the Government should at least clear up the unresolved allegations that have inflicted such grave damage on Ted Heath’s reputation. As the Lord Speaker put it in a recent article:
“We should not be content to allow the slur of unsubstantiated allegation to cloud his reputation”.
That is the central issue with which we are concerned in this debate.
Three or four of the allegations have already been shown to be groundless. Could it be that none of the seven is any more credible than the 35 that were dismissed in the course of Operation Conifer? Could it be that Wiltshire Police wanted to leave the seven hanging in the air in order to avoid having to admit that a great deal of money had been spent, and much police time employed, without achieving anything at all? In view of the severe criticisms that have been made of Operation Conifer, it is not easy to put such suspicions out of one’s mind. The case for an independent review is surely overwhelming.
Sadly, the Government do not agree. Yet again they employ evasive, weasel words, saying that there are no grounds to justify review or intervention by government. That is what my noble friend Lady Williams told me in response to my last Oral Question calling for justice for Ted Heath on 12 November, citing a letter by the Home Secretary a month earlier on 10 October, even though that letter makes only passing reference to the request for a review of the seven unsubstantiated allegations. It does not provide a clear, unequivocal answer to it.
One ground for action above all surely stares the Government in the face: justice for Ted Heath. So I ask them to explain clearly and in full the reasons why they are resisting the right and honourable course in the absence of a full Conifer inquiry: namely, independent scrutiny of the unproven allegations that are besmirching a dead statesman’s reputation. Whatever the Government’s reasons may be, I call upon them now to reconsider them. That is my fourth, and most important, question to the Government this evening.
Four questions: the answers given to them by the Government will show whether or not they are at last prepared to heed the calls for justice made so strongly and so often in all parts of this House.
My Lords, I support the Motion to Regret so ably and forcefully moved by the noble Lord, Lord Lexden.
I have no complaint about the thoroughness with which Operation Conifer was conducted. It spent two years, as the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, said, and £1.5 million. It interviewed a great many friends and colleagues of Sir Edward Heath, and staff and protection officers who had worked for him, and not a single one thought that Sir Edward Heath had been a child abuser.
They interviewed me for over an hour. I was interviewed by two well-spoken young women—one of them, I think, a police officer; the other was said to be an expert in child abuse, whatever that means—and they were chiefly interested in my duties as principal private secretary to Sir Edward Heath when he was Prime Minister. They spent so long on it that I wondered whether they were hoping that I would say that one of my duties was to procure children for Sir Edward to abuse. If they were expecting that, they were disappointed. I said that I never suspected anything; never even wondered whether he might be a child abuser. In fact, as we know, he was far too cautious and protective of his political and personal reputation to have gone in for anything so risky, even if he was minded that way.
One interviewer said to his interviewee that the investigation was a farce; that the only reason why he was doing it was that he was being paid to do it. So my complaint is about the judgment of the senior officers who initiated and supervised the inquiry. The final responsibility there, of course, must lie with the then chief constable of whom the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, has spoken. They permitted themselves to announce that they were investigating Sir Edward Heath by means of a televised statement made outside his house in Salisbury, thus ensuring that from the very beginning the operation was conducted in full public glare. Later there was the episode to which the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, referred, when the chief constable was quoted as saying that he was 120% sure of Edward Heath’s guilt. If he said anything of the kind he was going grossly beyond any responsibility of a chief constable. The duty of the police is to investigate, to collect evidence and to follow the evidence where it leads, but not to pronounce verdicts. The fact remains that the allegation in the newspaper was never categorically denied.
Their decision to publish a summary report and to hold a press conference at the end of the investigation was an unusual—indeed, I would say unprecedented—course to which they were forced by the fact that the whole investigation had been made public. As we have heard, about 90% of that report was given over to justifying the decision to conduct the investigation and then disposed of 35 of the 42 allegations which had been received, I think all or most of them made after the announcement outside Arundells, and left the seven unresolved allegations to which the noble Lord has referred. Four of them are clearly without foundation, and that is probably true of the other three. One wonders whether seven were left unresolved in order to ensure that Sir Edward Heath remained under suspicion.
Hence the need for an independent inquiry. The police and crime commissioner said that he would welcome an inquiry but not one initiated by him. That was because, he said, this is a national matter. The Home Secretary, when the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Wirral, and I went to see him, refused to conduct an inquiry because it is a local matter. I do not know of any way in which one can resolve this dilemma. Is it a national matter or is it a local one? They do not seem to be able to agree.
This is a matter of justice for Sir Edward Heath and it ought not to be left in its present state. I believe that there is probably no one who now thinks that Edward Heath was a child abuser. What is needed is to nail that down. The best way to do that would be to hold an independent inquiry. If that is not to be done, what is needed in order to reinforce the conclusion is an authoritative statement that the information available on this matter, including Operation Conifer, does not satisfy the standards of probability that would justify a decision to prosecute. That may be as far as we can get at this stage because Sir Edward has been dead for 12 years and his reputation has been grossly undermined and clouded by the injustice that has been done to him through Operation Conifer.
My Lords, I too welcome the noble Baroness, Lady Barran, to the Dispatch Box for the first time in a debate. We look forward to hearing from her many times in the future. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, on the immense tenacity that he has shown on this very important issue which concerns the reputation of one of the statesmen of this country. I did not know Sir Edward Heath; I never met him. The only connection I can possibly cite is that when Sir Alistair Graesser, who some noble Lords may recall, lived in my house before I bought it from him, Sir Edward Heath spent the night there. That is the most I can ever say about my connection with him.
We have to start with Operation Marble. In March 2015, the Wiltshire Police made a referral to the Independent Police Complaints Commission to investigate a suggestion that a criminal court case may have been dropped in 1994 to protect Sir Edward Heath. It was based upon the recollection of a former senior officer who in August 1992 as a young detective constable had been involved in an undercover operation into the existence of a brothel at an address in Salisbury. It was his job to go to the brothel to demonstrate that a Ms Myra Ling Ling Forde was willing to offer sex for sale. Ms Forde was charged with keeping a brothel and when her case was listed to be heard at Winchester Crown Court in February 1994, the officer in question, who has retired, recalled that he was approached by Ms Forde’s solicitor and told that if the case proceeded, Ms Forde would notify the media that she had been supplying young boys to Sir Edward. That was his recollection, but he had not recorded anything in his notebook or diary. He said that he was reminded of it 21 years later, after watching a television programme about Jimmy Savile. He named other officers who had been involved in the investigation. Two of them were named in his police notebook as having attended court with him but he said that that was not right because he was there on his own. He said he had telephoned his headquarters in Salisbury about this suggestion, but he could not remember who he had spoken to. The trial of Ms Forde did not take place and he had inferred that this was to protect Sir Edward from these allegations. That is the foundation of it; that is where it all sprang from.
All the case papers had been destroyed in the ordinary course of events both in the police station and in the court. The IPCC carried out an investigation. None of the officers in the case or the senior officers in the police station at the time had any recollection of this alleged threat. The defence solicitor and the defence counsel were both interviewed and they too had no recollection of a threat being made to expose Sir Edward by their client. Prosecuting counsel was Nigel Seed, who has in the interim become a Crown Court judge. He wrote a letter to the Times following the commencement of the IPCC investigation in which he stated that there had been three prosecution witnesses in his case. Two of them, who were said to have chaotic lifestyles, had failed to turn up on the morning of the trial and the third was brought to court in custody but refused to come out of the cells to give evidence. Mr Seed did recall that there were members of the press from London hanging about, and he was told that there was media interest in case Ms Forde gave evidence of supplying rent boys to Sir Edward, who lived in Salisbury. Perhaps that is where that detective constable got the idea. But the only evidence left for Mr Seed to prove that the premises were a brothel was a bag of used condoms. He personally had taken the decision to withdraw the prosecution and drop the case. That is exactly what one would expect of a competent counsel who was acting responsibly.
Ms Forde declined to be interviewed by the IPCC in Operation Marble but through her solicitor gave interviews to several reporters for both the national and local press in which she said that Sir Edward was not a client of hers and she had never threatened to expose him. That seems likely because in the following year she was tried and convicted of brothel and prostitution offences and was sent to prison. Even in those circumstances she made no suggestion or threat about exposing Sir Edward. The IPCC concluded that the 1994 case had not been stopped due to any threat of exposing Sir Edward and that it was a complete fabrication. That was the result of Operation Marble. There was no evidence at all that the recollection of the retired police officer after 21 years was correct or true. But on 3 August 2015, as the investigation was just starting, someone in the IPCC decided to issue a press release which contained the following sentence:
“It is alleged that a criminal prosecution was not pursued when a person threatened to expose that Sir Edward Heath may have been involved in offences concerning children”.
At no point until the IPCC press statement had Sir Edward Heath’s name been mentioned in anything.
I have looked at the IPCC statutory guidance. While the identity of the complainant may be withheld from interested persons if he or she requests it, nothing is said about withholding the identity of the person complained against. The guidance is in the process of being revised and, as suggested, will go out for consultation by the end of next January, but there is still nothing there by way of guidance.
Ironically, under the heading “Publishing the report”, the Operation Marble investigation report dated 16 March 2016 concludes:
“Further redactions might be made to the report at this stage to ensure that individuals’ personal data is sufficiently protected”.
That was months after the August 2015 press statement talked about Sir Edward Heath. The very first question for an inquiry is who in the IPCC authorised that press release and why. He or she must have known that this was dynamite in the atmosphere of the Dame Janet Smith inquiry into Jimmy Savile, which started in 2012 and whose report was about to be published. The 3 August 2015 press release led to Wiltshire Police, the subject of the IPCC investigation, making on the very same day its infamous televised media appeal in front of the gates of Sir Edward Heath’s house—and so Operation Conifer began.
I will make a number of short points. First, the inquiry was always bound to be incomplete. No police file alleging a crime can be sent to the CPS without the proposed defendant being interviewed under caution. His interview, whether he admits or denies the allegation or exercises his right to remain silent, is an essential part. Secondly, it always was and is the policy of the Crown Prosecution Service not to give any indication of whether evidence of any allegation made against a deceased person meets the threshold for prosecution: whether the evidence produced is likely on a balance of probabilities sufficient to lead to a conviction and whether prosecution is in the public interest. It will not do so. There was therefore never going to be any independent professional assessment of the results of the police inquiry. That is why it was so disgraceful that the chief constable, Mr Veale, announced his conclusion that he was “120%” sure of guilt. That was a dereliction of his duty and I am amazed that he remains in post.
The Operation Conifer summary closure report justifies the expenditure of £1.5 million and the employment of at least 20 police officers on the following basis:
“The role of the police in an investigation into a deceased person is set out in Operation Hydrant Senior Investigating Officer Advice (2016)”.
The police justify what they did with guidelines published after the inquiry started. The report also stated:
“The advice … references Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights … which is an absolute right and declares that, ‘No-one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment’ … The interpretation of Article 3 (ECHR) by leading counsel retained by Operation Hydrant identifies that the closer the alleged suspect is to the State and the more serious the allegation, the greater is the duty to investigate under Article 3. Due to the public prominence of Sir Edward Heath, and the office that he held as Prime Minister, this is particularly relevant in relation to the decision to investigate the allegations made against him”.
No thought appears to have been given to Article 6.2 of the convention:
“Everyone charged with a criminal offence shall be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law”.
Under Operation Conifer, 42 disclosures were made, ranging from 1956 to 1992. That number was reduced to 40 when it was discovered that one man made three complaints, each under a false name. Of the rest, 10 disclosures were made by third parties and not by the alleged victims, three were made anonymously and 19 were undermined by inherent contradictions. For example, one described in detail the nautical theme of Sir Edward’s flat long before he took to the waves and became a sailor.
Three disclosures were cases of mistaken identity. I recall allegations made against Lord McAlpine of being involved in the problems in Bryn Estyn. I come from Wrexham, as does my son, who is a BBC journalist. He phoned me on the morning that the allegation was made and said, “They’ve got the wrong man, haven’t they?” We all knew who Mr McAlpine was; he was certainly not Lord McAlpine. He was the president of the local golf club. Mistaken identity happens. The Operation Conifer report said that seven of the disclosures would have led to an interview, but one was suspect because of undermining evidence.
Why do people make such claims? They do so for all sorts of reasons. In a Written Question, I asked how many people claimed compensation under the criminal injuries scheme—they can do so even if an offence is 30 or more years old—but was told that it would take too many resources to find out. Since the actual claims would have been put in since 2015, I find that very hard to believe. I am sure that there is an index of claims for compensation made. We are left in a situation where an obvious injustice has been done as a result of something that somebody vaguely remembered years ago, which was proven completely false in Operation Marble. The sooner we have an inquiry to clear all this up, the better.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, is an historian. He deployed his grasp of detail to great effect, aiming for justice for a British statesman of considerable note. Surely it should be so.
I recollect in June 1970 the first entry of Edward Heath as Prime Minister into the Chamber of the House of Commons, to great acclamation. He wore a blue cornflower in his buttonhole and sported a mahogany tan of great depth. My side of the House was downcast and still in shock. The noble Lord, Lord Lexden, referred to statesmanship. Very soon after that day—not much more than a year—Edward Heath proposed one of the greatest events in Britain’s history outside of war: entry into Europe. Of course, there are the tumultuous events of this week concerning our exit from it, but that is something else.
Edward Heath was greatly instrumental in our entry into Europe, aided by his Chief Whip, Francis Pym. I recall the issue being addressed by James Callaghan on that evening in the Chamber. He was making the last Opposition speech and in a crowded House, I spied Chief Whip Francis Pym push his way through the rugby scrum at the Bar of the House and make his way across that space to whisper in the then Prime Minister’s ear that the votes were there. That was a historic moment for the House of Commons, and it was historic statesmanship by Edward Heath.
I decided to make my brief intervention on the basis that I owe him some gratitude. For many years, I was an advocate in another place for a community that had a huge steelworks with some 14,000 employees. The then Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, Mr Peter Walker, said the steel-making in my constituency—in my homeland—was to end. That was an absolutely catastrophic proposal. As a young Member, I had to set about organising campaigns against that proposal. I do not need to remind your Lordships’ House of the consequences of mass unemployment. I had the wit to ask the Prime Minister’s Private Secretary if the Prime Minister would see me, along with a deputation. The answer was yes. He gave me some two hours in the Cabinet room. I sat opposite the Prime Minister—and a picture of Walpole, the first Prime Minister. Either side of me were humble men, steelworkers, and there was the British Prime Minister. He had been a Minister for the north, I think, and, as a lieutenant-colonel, had commanded the artillery and got to know men of that kind. I was astounded by what I saw and heard of Edward Heath, compared to his national image: he showed courtesy, patience, consideration and encouragement. Unusually for a man such as that, he called for cups of tea for my people. This was perhaps unique—Edward Heath looking after his visitors; he was that sort of man. I place that on the record. As a young Member, I had reason to get that deputation into Downing Street.
As I left, he told me I had done very well. Astoundingly, he then said, “How is your father?” My father had been a full-time employee of the British Labour Party at the time of the 1950 general election. The sitting Member was of my side, but the candidate was an unknown called Edward Heath, who was at that time news editor of the Church Times. I see that the noble Lord, Lord Deben, remembers. He may even have been in the Chamber in June 1970—I am not sure. My father subjected Edward Heath to three re-counts. The majority was pretty well the same size as the number of votes the Communist candidate obtained—three figures. This was in 1950, and Edward Heath went on to be Prime Minister.
Given the way a reputation might be traduced and dishonoured, and in the knowledge that Edward Heath was a British Prime Minister of great statesmanship, I felt I ought to acknowledge my debt of gratitude. I hope the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, and the wise and noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, will gain justice some time soon.
My Lords, I declare my interests as set out in the register, particularly that I had the honour to follow the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong of Ilminster, as the chairman of the Sir Edward Heath Charitable Foundation. I am delighted with the speech of my former opposite number in the other place, the noble Lord, Lord Jones.
I congratulate my noble friend Lord Lexden, not only on making possible this important debate, and eloquently opening it, but on his dogged pursuit of justice and common sense in the wake of the highly unsatisfactory Operation Conifer. I very much welcome the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, who set out the origins of this nonsense and how it emerged so clearly.
Sir Edward Heath’s reputation matters to so many of us, as we have already heard. This is not only because he obtained the highest office in British politics. It is an open secret that politicians can be very exercised by the judgment of posterity. I recall that, in Shakespeare’s “Othello”, when Cassio is discredited, he cries out:
“Reputation, reputation, reputation! O, I have lost my reputation! I have lost the immortal part of myself, and what remains is bestial”.
The arch-manipulator, Iago, who has personally and insidiously orchestrated the ruin of Cassio’s reputation, responds:
“Reputation is an idle and most false imposition: oft got without merit, and lost without deserving”.
Because of a number of unproven accusations against him, and because of the apparent credulousness of Wiltshire Police, Sir Edward Heath’s reputation—his good name—was, for a time, in acute danger of being lost for ever, without deserving. I think this is such an important debate.
I believe Ted’s name has now been, to all intents and purposes, cleared, but that is no thanks to anyone associated with Wiltshire Police. Spurred on by frankly bizarre guidance from the then Director of Public Prosecutions, that force treated pathetic fantasies and deliberate, knowing lies as the truthful accounts of “victims”. Ted could not possibly defend himself against this web of deceit. Fortunately, others can and have defended themselves: Sir Cliff Richard; Paul Gambaccini; Lord Bramall, a hero who served his country nobly; and the late Leon Brittan, who could—and should—have been informed that the cases against him had been exposed as a tissue of lies before he died, but was not.
Ted Heath, who served this country with distinction in peace and in war, is now the real victim. Those who were complicit in creating and sustaining the slur against him must now realise they have lost, comprehensively. None the less, because he is dead, Ted is denied complete justice. He has had no opportunity to defend himself.
I have always admired what I have thought of as the traditional approach to policing, which dates back to Sir Robert Peel: a healthy balance between scepticism and credulity and an approach to investigation that is methodical, thorough, calm, well mannered and, above all else, always led by evidence. When police officers decide they are on some sort of crusade, they overstep a very dangerous line. Of course, the police enjoy operational independence—rightly so—but that cannot and must not mean they are not accountable for their actions.
If we are indeed to sanction full-scale investigations into allegations against deceased persons, we owe it to them to abide by the principle of habeas corpus; as the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, reminded us, this is the presumption of innocence, unless and until guilt can be established. That stretches back to Magna Carta and 1215. The officers in charge of Operation Conifer say that they would have investigated and interviewed Sir Edward Heath about those six or seven accusations. The final statement made in a lavishly expensive police operation, although no one now believes it, must have left a stain, a smell, a hint that all was not well—a possible imputation of guilt. Sadly, we know very little about the seven accusations. That makes it very difficult—almost impossible—for us to subject them to any sort of rigorous examination. I believe that three have already been straightforwardly disproven, but all seven should and could be rigorously scrutinised.
It should be up to the Crown Prosecution Service to consider all the evidence—if indeed there is any evidence, rather than accusations—very much as it would were the accused person alive. The CPS is well versed in knowing the difference between an accusation and evidence. Our conclusion is that a retired judge could easily consider both a prosecution and a defence case. I know many people who would gladly prepare the defence case, but I do not for one moment believe that the CPS would take any of these accusations seriously.
In welcoming my noble friend to the Front Bench, I hope she might disregard what is no doubt the very strong advice that she is receiving from within the Home Office that this move would set an unfortunate precedent. What is unfortunate about asking a retired judge to scrutinise these accusations properly?
It is a well-established rule of this great House to give voice to those who have no voice. In life, Sir Edward Heath had a very distinctive voice and, as we all have cause to remember, he was never afraid to use it. Thanks to his friends and former colleagues, here and elsewhere, although his voice is now stilled, his name has been comprehensively cleared. Other deceased individuals against whom false accusations are made may not be so lucky. We owe it to all of them, as well as to the genuine victims of crime, to ensure that justice is done and seen to be done. That can be now be done only by a proper independent judicial inquiry into these accusations. Ted Heath’s name has been cleared, but it has set an unfortunate precedent, which we must address.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Lexden. He has been a doughty campaigner on behalf of someone whom I believe was his friend. The House should also express gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, who gave us an excellent analytical examination of the past and brought the House’s attention to matters of which many of us were previously unaware.
Once again, we are cantering around a course of myth, hearsay and rumour. I have been raising this issue in this House for more than two and half years and we have got absolutely nowhere. Nothing has happened, although I sense a change in opinion in this House towards the events alleged, whereby basically no one now believes them. It is not that I think that the Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, has been unsympathetic. I think she is caught in the impasse of inexplicable fear at the top of government. There is no credible evidence whatever that a former Prime Minister was involved in child abuse or any other sexual abuse.
The issue is simple: who in authority will have the guts to stand up and say, “We are witnessing a quasi-judicial, historic miscarriage of justice without there ever being a trial”? That is what is so important. That is what a review would be all about. We want the historical record to be corrected in the court of international public opinion.
The Government have taken the position set out by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, who said:
“The police are operationally independent of government”.
That has been referred to before. She went on:
“The Government would step in only where all other avenues had been exhausted”.—[Official Report, 11/10/18; col. 178.]
We are at that point. All other avenues have been exhausted. The proof of that is set out in the 2018 report of the Wiltshire Police commissioner, who states:
“It remains my hope and expectation that IICSA will have something to say on the strength or otherwise of any evidence against Sir Edward Heath”.
He goes on:
“Should IICSA maintain that position”—
of failing to act—
“the Home Secretary should, in my view, order a separate public inquiry with the necessary powers and the remit to establish the facts”.
He further states:
“Wiltshire has more than met its national responsibilities, and I will not commission any further work in relation to Operation Conifer”.
He goes on to refer to his limited resources.
My problem with all that is that, while I understand the resource argument at the local level, I hesitate over the prospect of an IICSA finding of fact when the accused is dead. If a man is dead, there can be no finding of fact because there is no defence. IICSA’s operations are based on hearings. There is no one to hear, apart from the accusers, which takes us right back to the Janner case. Indeed, I note that in all the cases where accusations have been levelled against individuals who are still alive, we have had either apologies or mealy-mouthed statements withdrawing accusations. In other words, attack the dead who cannot respond and run scared of the living for fear of legal action.
The Wiltshire Police commissioner says that the Government should do something, and they should. Sir Edward Heath was not a Wiltshire Council leader; he was a Prime Minister with an international reputation. We either give Wiltshire all the money it needs—not part of the money, as happened before—to draw up the Conifer review, or the Government carry out a judge-led review of the evidence. Anyhow, it should not cost much. There is very little evidence, just hearsay and untruths. The Nick case will prove that.
The powers that be have allowed this whole debate about sexual abuse to become bogged down in political correctness. We are entering a fantasy world where anyone without principle can make a claim of sexual abuse against any other person in the knowledge that there is a presumption that the accuser is to be believed. The whole process is being greatly aided by the sexual offences compensation scheme, otherwise known as the criminal injuries compensation scheme, with legal expenses funded by the taxpayer while the scheme is undermining the credibility of legitimate claimants. All you now need is a vivid imagination, a preparedness to lie and the ability to make the accusation seem realistic by drawing on other cases already on the public record that give credence to your accusation and you are on your way to a windfall.
I give your Lordships an example. Let us take the Janner case. Last week, IICSA informed me of a further accusation against Janner. It came after the collapse of the civil claims against the Janner estate when an unidentified man claimed that,
“he was raped at Dolphin Square”—
noble Lords will recall Dolphin Square—
“whilst in the care of social services by a person he subsequently believes to be Janner”.
That is from paragraph 7 of Professor Jay’s letter of determination, dated 2 May 2018. Until then there had been no claim by anyone, ever, that Janner was linked to the infamously false Dolphin Square allegations. It is a patent lie, yet this individual, referred to as F54 in the IICSA inquiry, has been granted core participation status in the Janner strand, entitling him to legal representation by solicitors and counsel at huge cost to the taxpayer, running into tens of thousands of pounds. His lawyers will be able to charge for preparatory work leading up to proceedings and representation at a three-week hearing fixed for February 2020. I object, on behalf of the taxpayers of the United Kingdom: it is an outrage and it further affects the credibility of the IICSA inquiry.
In that quotation, the reference to a location is a straight lift from the famous Nick’s Dolphin Square fantasyland. It would be interesting to know how much this job is worth to the lawyers. Talking about the lawyers, they run a pretty lucrative trade. I have two adverts here that are to be found in Inside Time, a publication for prisoners. One reads:
“Child abuse solicitors: helping victims to claim compensation and achieve justice. If you suffered physical psychological or sexual abuse as a child from someone who was in a position of trust, our specialist child abuse lawyers may be able to help you claim compensation and achieve justice”.
It goes on to name particular locations, including St Williams, Market Weighton, Manchester care homes, Wales care homes, Leeds care homes and a detention centre. It asks readers to approach one of its lawyers. I have another from the same journal that circulates in prison:
“Child abuse: helping victims achieve justice. The law allows people to make claims for compensation even if the abuse they suffered took place many years ago”.
It goes on to say that specialist solicitors are available to help. It does not surprise me that many accusers have substantial prison records. Of course, these are many of the people now making applications for compensation.
Let me tell the House, lest people think we are interested only in the cases of the great and the good, that many cases have passed my desk over the years claiming miscarriages of justice. I must admit that not all have been credible, but one is from a man who lives in modest circumstances in Darwen, Lancashire, a constituency I fought some 45 years ago. This man, now aged 70 and ill, is still in prison, serving a 16-year sentence at HMP Wymott following what I believe to be a miscarriage of justice. The case has been to the cash-starved Criminal Cases Review Commission, which lacks the resources to reopen the case on the scale I believe necessary. He may well die in prison. His case disturbs me. I feel utterly helpless, although I am trying to find a way to have his case reopened. I feel for such cases, while feeling equally for those women whose cases are not properly investigated and where the guilty go free.
I despair over what is happening in the handling of sexual offence cases. I do not know whether we need special investigative bodies, special courts or something else. What I do know is that we need an end to political correctness in decision-making. The case of Sir Edward Heath is a sickening betrayal of British justice. Our judicial system is being brought into disrepute across the world. Our Government—indeed, successive Governments—are frozen in the headlamps of inertia when it comes to sexual offences.
Someone asked me the other day: why get involved in these cases, which risk one’s own political reputation? The answer is simple: I, along with others, cannot abide injustice. Here I am, a Labour Peer, defending the reputation of a Conservative Prime Minister, a man I never particularly liked, but one’s political preferences are irrelevant when it comes to principle and justice. These cases are riddled with injustice. We are witnessing the destruction of reputations built up in public service over a lifetime, and all because the state is gutless in its obsession with a political correctness which is not even correct and is distorting rational consideration of what constitutes guilt. One day, society will look back at this period in quasi-judicial history, particularly in the area of sexual offences, and liken it to a time when justice was summary, akin to the Dark Ages in the darkest recesses of the past.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Lexden for introducing this debate and for everything he has said—with which I agree absolutely and entirely—so forcefully and rightly. What is significant about the debate is that there is a unanimity of view in this House, not only about the injustice but why it needs to be put right, coming from all parts of the Chamber, and I am very glad about that.
I had a close connection for many years with Ted Heath so I must declare an interest. In 1959, I came down from the University of St Andrews, where I had done an economics degree, to King’s College London to do a law degree, and I therefore had the summer recess free. Ted Heath was president of the Federation of University Conservative and Unionist Associations—FUCUA, as it was politely known—and I was the chairman that year. He knew I was free so I got a telephone call in Scotland asking me if I would come down to Bexley and, as he put it, “run his ladies” during the election campaign because he was away canvassing and speaking at Central Office and doing all sorts of things. I was delighted to do that.
One of the ladies, who was his secretary at the time, I got to know rather well as she came down quite often from his office in London to campaign with me. One of the great joys of that campaign was that that secretary became my wife. I have always been delighted to say that that is how it started. Ted became godfather to one of our children, so that is my personal interest to declare.
More particularly, I was head of his office when he was leader of the Conservative Party from 1962 to 1965, and I travelled everywhere with him—all over the UK, as well as internationally—on many weekends, as well as working in his parliamentary office, very often very late at night when Parliament was sitting, so I had a very close observation of and relationship with him. In all those years, I never saw the slightest hint of any of the accusations that have been made against him.
As far as I know, there never has been any shred of evidence for the innuendos and accusations. No one has come forward so far—and I do not believe they will in the future—with a single bit of proof. Now at last the identity of Nick—the apparent source of most, if not all, of these latest innuendos—has been revealed. As far as we can judge, he has been revealed as the source of accusations about not only Ted Heath but many others, including other prominent figures. If this is the case, it is astonishing that he was allowed to get away with it for so long—anonymously, while those against whom the claims were made received the full glare of incredibly one-sided publicity.
These are serious matters, as the Chamber has recognised tonight. They go beyond the issue of Ted Heath, but that brings them out dramatically. People who have given a lifetime of public service have had their reputation substantially traduced, while the source, obviously known to the police, was allowed to get away scot free—or, at the very least, to remain anonymous—for so long that the public have been unable to judge whether or not the accusations had any basis of truth.
The Daily Telegraph has reported that a review by a retired High Court judge has highlighted more than 40 mistakes that have been made by some police forces. It is high time that we are given more information about all these accusations and how they are being dealt with, so that people such as Ted Heath, who have given a lifetime of public service and made a remarkable contribution to our nation and its history, have these accusations clearly dealt with once and for all, and their reputations properly restored.
I strongly support this Motion and all that has been said in the Chamber so far, and I thank my noble friend Lord Lexden for bringing this issue so forcefully to the House. I warmly urge the Front Bench to take this away and realise that this is the unanimous feeling of the House, which we all feel deeply and strongly, and that it is time that it is put right.
My Lords, I too pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Lexden, who, as others have said, has been indefatigable in this cause, as indeed have many other Members of the House. I welcome to the Front Bench my noble friend Lady Barran. This is her first debate.
The question which concerns us this evening is: how did we allow the reputation of a former Prime Minister to be so damaged by unsubstantiated allegations, lies, fantasies, false statements, possible perjury and the shamefully prejudicial language of a chief constable? This has happened step by step: allegations are made, so a police officer, who should know better, deliberately positions himself outside the home of Edward Heath, in front of the television cameras, and calls upon victims—that was the word he used, not complainants—to come forward. We then have, as has been said, the then chief constable of Wiltshire, Mike Veale, being quoted as saying he was 120% sure of Edward Heath’s guilt. The man formerly known as Nick—now named as Carl Beech—is finally charged with perjury and perverting the course of justice.
We have witnessed a saga of fiction created by fantasies, aided and abetted by gullible police officers, and shockingly given credence by an overzealous chief constable. It is a catalogue of shame. It besmirched the reputation of a former Prime Minister, and throughout, the Government stood idly by. There has been debate after debate in this House, question after question, but from this Government—a Conservative Government— no help or support at all. It is, to put it at its mildest, deeply disappointing.
The way that Operation Conifer was managed, or rather, mismanaged, and looking at how other investigations have damaged other people’s reputations—Lord Bramall, Cliff Richard, the late Lord Brittan—raises very serious questions which cause grave disquiet. There is the question of whether and when the police should investigate allegations made against a deceased person. How clear is the guidance as to the circumstances which would justify such investigations? When are they necessary or prudent? When would they be fruitless or, worse still, needlessly damaging to the reputation of a deceased person who cannot defend themselves?
Then there is the care that the police should take in the language they use. There is the question of the police grandstanding and exploiting television to imply guilt. Then there is the matter of collusion between the police and the media, as in the case of Cliff Richard. It is worth remembering that the judge in that case found that the naming of Sir Cliff as a suspect in a police investigation amounted to a breach of his privacy. This raises a host of important issues.
Then there is the accountability of police and crime commissioners. In Wiltshire, the PCC refused all requests for a full inquiry into Operation Conifer. Mike Veale, the chief constable, has now left Wiltshire for pastures new and the PCC is not standing for re-election. So where, may I ask, is the accountability? How is the much vaunted accountability of PCCs supposed to function in this instance?
All these questions need to be looked at very carefully. There are too many loose ends. There is too much vagueness, too much scope for carelessness and mistakes and for real harm to be done. So this is what the Home Office should do. It should identify all the concerns which Operation Conifer and similar police operations have raised. It should examine carefully what has happened, what has gone wrong and what changes are needed. Because if nothing changes, then at some stage in the future, someone else will find their reputation trashed because of wild allegations. The Home Office has a responsibility to make sure that what happened to Sir Edward Heath does not happen to anyone else.
Finally, I put one small request to my noble friend the Minister. Will she please put before the Home Secretary the Hansard of this debate, so that he can read the strength of feeling in this House?
My Lords, I too have to declare an interest: it is through Ted Heath that I met and married my wife. She worked for him and knew him extremely well. She too was interviewed in the course of this inquiry. The questions that were asked showed specifically what nonsense it was. Did she know of occasions in which young men came secretly to 10 Downing Street? Anyone who knows anything about the way in which a Prime Minister operates and is protected—even in those days—would know what a ridiculous question that was in the first place. I could go through many of them, but I want first to say that although I welcome my noble friend Lady Barran to the Front Bench, I think she has been ill-done-by in being asked to do this, because this is a situation in which the real guilt is with the Government, who have failed to take action, and that is a scandal. May I dare to suggest what would have happened if a Conservative Government had failed to do this about a Labour Prime Minister? Or a Labour Government had failed to take action about a Conservative Prime Minister?
It is a scandal because the Government have failed to understand what their duty is and have shuffled it off to a local area, which knows perfectly well that it would have to pay the cost—the very considerable cost, if it did it properly—and which itself had to be subsidised for the original inquiry that took place under Operation Conifer. The Home Office knows that, and knows perfectly well that only the Government could ensure that there was the kind of inquiry of a national sort which is necessary on this occasion. So why will the Government not do it? They should do so, first, out of loyalty to Britain and to a Prime Minister, leave alone their politics. But secondly, they need to do so because of the actions of the police.
I am a great defender of the police but the Wiltshire Police, and Mr Veale in particular, have let down all the police forces of this country. People say that he went off to Cleveland but just remember that he left at the point at which he was not reappointed, and when it became clear that he might well not be reappointed. He went to Cleveland and has since been found guilty of what was clearly straight lying, which he has admitted. We need to recover the reputation of the police, and the only way to do so is to make sure that they know that they too are subject to the kind of inquiry which we should have here. The tendency to be sceptical about our willingness to look into the misdoings of the police will otherwise be justified.
The third reason why this inquiry must take place is because of all of us. This has happened to Ted Heath but I say to my noble friend the Minister: it could happen to you. It could happen to any of us because it is a tissue of lies, invented either by the malevolent or by the fundamentally ill. As the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, pointed out, any of us who have dealt with these cases before—the sort of people I had to talk to when we were trying to recover the reputation of Lord Brittan—will have realised that we were dealing with some of the saddest people there were. They had become totally convinced that things had happened which could not have happened, because that was not possible.
I say to my noble friend that there is a very important lesson here. I have no doubt that she has a document in front of her. I could almost have written it myself but I will restrain myself. She will read from that but I want her to say also that this House will not rest. If the Government want to go on with this farce, then again and again we will bring it here until they accept that they have a duty—moral, political and, frankly, out of decent humanity—to take this case up and reveal the truth.
I am not going to argue about whether Ted Heath was in any way guilty; I think it is so obvious that he was not, but that is not what this argument is about. In a sense, we have spent too much time talking about the impossibility of the case in the first place. What we need to do is to say that if we believe in justice, it is justice not just for the poorest or for those who cannot defend themselves but justice for all—justice for the reputation of a man who was our Prime Minister.
Frankly, I ask my noble friend not to tell us that it is an unfortunate precedent or that it is inappropriate, because we are not having it any more. We are going to go on, as my noble friend Lord Lexden has led us again tonight, until the Government accept that it is their duty to all of us to investigate this properly and not to allow the reputation of a great man to be besmirched because they are frightened of the fall out—for there can be no other reason.
I say this to my noble friend: one thing that she could do tonight to is give us a real reason. If she cannot, I hope she will go back, as my noble friend suggested, and say to the Home Secretary that we cannot do this again. We cannot manage it again. The House will not have it again. The Government have got to change their mind.
My Lords, first, I welcome my noble friend to the Dispatch Box and express my sympathy. She will never have a more difficult speech to make or case to defend.
I have not spoken on this matter before, but I have followed what has been said by others on previous occasions and admire the persistence of my noble friend Lord Lexden, the noble Lords, Lord Campbell-Savours, Lord Armstrong and Lord Thomas of Gresford, and others. I listened carefully to the detail which has been spelled out today and on previous occasions on all this and I shall not repeat it or add to it. I had hoped that, given the strength of the case that was made on previous occasions, this would all have been put right—but it has not been and it will not be until there is an inquiry. So I add my words in calling for an inquiry.
I worked for Ted Heath when he was the shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1965. As a young chartered accountant interested in politics, I was hired by the Conservative Research Department—rather to my surprise and its too, I think—and found myself working night and day to assist him and the team of MPs that he had assembled to debate the extensive tax reforms of the 1965 Finance Bill. It turned out to be the start of my political career.
Sir Edward had a distinguished record, first as a soldier in World War II, then as an MP for more than 50 years and a Minister in successive Governments under four Prime Ministers, and then of course as Prime Minister himself. He earned the right, even above the right of ordinary citizens, not to be unfairly traduced after his death by the police and by those responsible for law and order—but that is what has happened, as was spelled out again today.
The police were of course right to investigate the accusations in the first place—nobody is disputing that, I think—but it is not justice to give up and leave the seven accusations hanging in the air at this stage for a person of his record, or indeed for any other person. We need an investigation, an inquiry, to clear the names of those involved, particularly Sir Edward. But I also think that my noble friend Lord Deben was right that we need an investigation for the sake of the police and their reputation for fairness and straight dealing. That should be important to the Home Office as well as to the police themselves. The way that the particular policemen involved behaved in this case has been set out by others. It left a scar on the reputation of the Wiltshire Police in particular and, by extension, the police as a whole. That should concern even those who do not care about the reputation of the individuals accused. We need to be reassured that the behaviour in this case was an aberration that will not be repeated in other cases.
The police and crime commissioner has failed to use his powers—although he seemed to be about to at one point—perhaps because of the reputation that my noble friend suggested, and the police themselves do not seem prepared to salvage their reputation, so the Home Office, the Government, must set up an inquiry—and the sooner, the better. I add my voice to those calling for a proper resolution to the outstanding accusations.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, for his doggedness in persisting with this, and the other Members of the House who have also done so.
I come at this from something of a different angle. We are dealing with an extremely difficult issue as a society. The Church of England knows something about it—but so do we all. This is really difficult stuff. It would not be enough to have an inquiry into the seven unresolved and said to be unsubstantiated allegations. It is about what we have learned from our experience, about good practice, about what has gone wrong and about how we develop things for the future.
The persistence in asking for a review has much more in it, because it is not right to elide from one operation to another in the way that has happened in this debate, where I think some untruths have been spoken—I am sure unintentionally. We are collecting this stuff together and we need forensically to analyse what is going on in these different cases.
There is an opportunity to learn from Operation Conifer for the good of the country—for the good of all of us. Some important principles are at stake. Salisbury has the best of the earliest copies of Magna Carta. No one is above the law. That is a really important principle for us. Victims must have the confidence in every circumstance to make complaints which are then properly investigated by the police.
We do not know the evidence in relation to the 42 allegations, of which seven remain allegations that would have been investigated under caution, because they have not been published. They were viewed by an independent scrutiny panel. That gives us some assurance that there must be something there—but we do not know.
What is to be made of this? There is clearly a problem about the reputation of Sir Edward Heath. That point has been made repeatedly in the House and elsewhere and put well tonight. I am grateful to those who, in the latter stages of the debate, spoke about the reputation of the Wiltshire Police. That matters to me a great deal. It does not help, without evidence, simply to make allegations which do not or will not necessarily stand up. Wiltshire Police’s reputation also needs reviewing to get this on to a basis where we can have confidence in one another.
Had Sir Edward still been alive, he would have been interviewed. He is not. The matter would have had to have been decided in a court of law. It cannot be. Would that the Church of England had learned from that. When the Operation Conifer report was published, I felt that that was a helpful principle to establish. But there will be more lessons to learn from it—for both Sir Edward’s reputation and for Wiltshire Police, but also for the country at large. In the very difficult process that we are going through, an independent, probably judicial, review would be very helpful to establish what lessons can be learned from this. This is not a matter to be financed just from Wiltshire: the police and crime commissioner has made that clear. This investigation was conducted on behalf of 14 forces. Therefore, it is appropriate to put this as a problem to the Government and to say that a review needs to be undertaken for the good of all.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, for securing today’s debate. I also welcome the Minister to her place on the Front Bench—and I accompany that with a note of sympathy. One or two noble Lords have asked the Minister to deviate from her brief tonight. I hope they realise that that can be a seriously career-limiting activity.
I will be brief. Your Lordships’ House is familiar with the context and details of this issue, as it has been raised a number of times in Oral Questions and debates over recent months. It is a complex area of huge significance to the operation of our criminal justice system, and to our efforts to ensure justice and to prevent and protect against serious crimes of sexual abuse. Victims who come forward—those accused, and the public—must be able to have confidence in our police forces to run just and professional investigations into allegations of this nature. It must be stated that it is right and proper for allegations against a prominent public figure to be investigated, as they would be for a person without such standing. With those investigations, though, comes an increased obligation to be responsible about what information is put into the public domain.
This debate has provided many questions for the Minister regarding noble Lords’ concerns over how the operation was managed, the role of the local PCC, and what consideration was given to the establishment and funding of an independent inquiry into Operation Conifer. I look forward to the Minister’s reply on these issues.
Following Operation Midland, Sir Richard Henriques published his findings on police handling of that investigation, including analysis of some serious failures. At the time we said that the details of the report should be used to strengthen police procedures for both the investigation and the treatment of suspects—but, crucially, that changes must not be used to downgrade the seriousness of allegations or to make it harder for victims to report a crime. With that in mind, I have two questions for the Minister.
First, can she tell the House whether she is aware of any work to spread best practice between police forces on their operational handling of investigations of this nature, and to prevent the repetition of mistakes such as those that occurred in Operation Midland? Secondly, even while we debate the important issue of access to justice for a person who is accused, we must also keep in our sights the injustices that are faced daily by victims of these crimes. Rape and abuse are woefully underreported and have low conviction rates. The most recent Crime Survey for England and Wales estimated that 83% of people who had been the victim of a sexual offence did not report their experience to the police. Will the Minister update the House on what work is being done to encourage the reporting of these offences, and to ensure that police officers are adequately trained to respond to a victim who discloses this kind of crime?
My Lords, I join other noble Lords in thanking my noble friend Lord Lexden for securing this important debate, and I thank all noble Lords for their warm welcome to me at the Dispatch Box. It is a great honour to be standing here, responding for the Government on this very important topic, and I will do my best to respond to the points raised.
In preparing for this speech, I read the various debates and questions on this topic over the past three years; indeed, I have listened to several exchanges since I joined your Lordships’ House in July. I have been struck by the strength of feeling about the damage done to Sir Edward’s reputation by Operation Conifer—and that strength of feeling was echoed again, very forcefully, by your Lordships tonight. The Government remain genuinely sympathetic to the concerns raised by noble Lords but have made their position clear on several occasions.
As noble Lords know, my right honourable friend the Home Secretary recently gave his own careful consideration to this matter and wrote to the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, on 10 October. He has considered the case both for a Government-commissioned inquiry into Operation Conifer and for a review of the seven remaining allegations. To answer my noble friend Lord Lexden’s question about whether there is anything in law to prevent the Government from commissioning an independent inquiry, I refer to the response of my noble friend Lady Williams of Trafford on 11 October. In it she confirmed that, while there is nothing to prevent the Government from doing so, they would need clear justification.
My right honourable friend the Home Secretary has recognised the strength of feeling on this matter and the issues it raises, but has also thought carefully about the proper role of government. It remains his view that the handling of this is properly a matter for the local police and crime commissioner and that it would not be appropriate for the Government to seek to persuade him how to go about it.
Sir Richard Henriques’ review of the Metropolitan Police’s handling of allegations against persons of public prominence, which has been referred to in this context, was of course commissioned by the then Commissioner, the noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe. It remains the case, therefore, that the Government have no plans to launch an inquiry into Operation Conifer or the seven outstanding allegations. A number of noble Lords have mentioned our inability to hear the voice of Sir Edward in response to these allegations—something on which my right honourable friend the Home Secretary also focused in his letter to the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong. He wrote that:
“the problem that the police encountered was their inability to interview Sir Edward himself in order to secure his account of events. I have every sympathy, but that problem will of course remain and it is not clear to what extent a further review of the existing evidence by a judge or retired prosecutor would resolve this”.
I am genuinely sorry to give a reply which I know will disappoint some noble Lords, but it is important to bear in mind the degree of scrutiny to which Operation Conifer has already been subject. This has included Wiltshire Police’s own independent scrutiny panel, two reviews by Operation Hydrant, a review of the costs of the operation by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services, and an investigation by the Independent Office for Police Conduct into specific complaints about the then chief constable. The findings of Operation Conifer were then made public in the Summary Closure Report published in October 2017.
It is clearly disappointing that the investigation was unable to resolve the position in respect of seven of the allegations. I fully understand why this is of concern—noble Lords have put it most eloquently this evening. A man who has served this country at the highest level has had his reputation tarnished and he is powerless to defend himself. However, as I have already mentioned, the missing piece of the jigsaw is Sir Edward’s side of the story. Sadly, that is lost to us now and it is not clear that a further review would take us any further forward. However, I reiterate what my noble friend Lady Williams has emphasised so often in this House: that the Summary Closure Report makes it clear that no inference of guilt should be drawn from the conclusion that Sir Edward would have been interviewed under caution.
I would now like to move to the wider issues highlighted by this case. Child sexual abuse is an abhorrent crime, the scale of which we are yet fully to understand. Many in your Lordships’ House have witnessed the damage that it causes to those it touches—the victims, those accused, their families and their friends. In addressing this crime, we have to balance the need to take victims seriously, conduct investigations thoroughly and avoid unfair damage to the reputations of those alleged to have committed the abuse.
My own experience of working with victims of both domestic and sexual abuse is that for too long they have not felt able to come forward, fearing that they would not be believed if they did. That is quite wrong. Victims need to be treated in a way that helps to build their confidence in the criminal justice system and ensures that their allegations are investigated properly.
The noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, made a very important point about improving reporting, and he asked about the work that the Government are doing to encourage this. Noble Lords will be aware that this Government have prioritised child sexual abuse as a national threat and have provided millions of pounds of extra investment, particularly through the police transformation fund, with the aim of transforming the law enforcement response and empowering police forces to apply their best skills and expertise in tackling the problem. Progress has been made in recent years in increasing victim confidence but we know that there is still significant underreporting, and this remains a major challenge not only for our criminal justice system but for our mental health services in dealing with the long-term impacts of abuse.
I do not have a personal view on that but I thank the noble Lord for his question. In a moment I will comment on some of the ways in which we feel that progress can be made in this area.
In the words of the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, in an earlier debate on this subject, the police face an “unenviable and difficult task”, because they have a responsibility towards the accused as well as the victims. My noble friend Lord Lexden referred in the same debate to the research led by Professor Carolyn Hoyle and colleagues at Oxford University into the impact of false allegations of sexual abuse on those accused, particularly the fear of further allegations. Professor Hoyle rightly points out that this fear of further allegations is not true of other crimes. I know that pre-charge anonymity for suspects is of concern to noble Lords and has been raised by a number of speakers in this debate.
The release of suspects’ names to the media is addressed in the authorised professional practice guidance on media relations issued by the College of Policing. This makes it clear that the police will not name those arrested or suspected of a crime, save in exceptional circumstances where there is a legitimate policing purpose for doing so. Naming an arrested person before charge should be authorised by a chief officer, and the Crown Prosecution Service should be consulted. In May 2018, the college updated this guidance to make clear that this also applies where allegations are made against deceased persons. This seems to strike a sensible balance, but it is important that we get this right. The previous Home Secretary therefore asked Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services to carry out a short, targeted review of police adherence to the guidance on media relations, looking in particular at pre-charge anonymity. The inspectorate is undertaking a scoping study this financial year to consider where inspection activity might best be focused. In addition, the College of Policing is consulting on this issue with the National Police Chiefs’ Council, the Police Superintendents’ Association and the Police Federation.
The Government are genuinely trying to ensure that lessons are learned from the experience of operating this guidance. I hope this will go some way to reassuring my noble friend Lord Sherbourne, the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, and others who mentioned this.
The Government’s position on Operation Conifer remains as set out in the letter that my right honourable friend the Home Secretary sent to the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, in October. The letter has been placed in the Lords Library. I thank all noble Lords for the careful consideration they have given to this matter. I recognise that the inconclusive nature of the investigation’s findings are unsatisfactory for everyone. I will make sure that my right honourable friend the Home Secretary gets a copy of the Hansard containing this debate.
I understand that there will be disappointment, especially among the many noble Lords who knew and worked with Sir Edward, but I repeat what I said earlier in my speech: no inference of Sir Edward’s guilt should be drawn from the conclusions of Operation Conifer. It is also absolutely clear that those noble Lords who knew Sir Edward well do not have any doubt about his innocence. I share the view of my right honourable friend the Home Secretary that the cloud of suspicion hanging over Sir Edward could be removed only if it were possible to interview him personally, something that, sadly, can no longer happen.
The response to my noble friend Lord Lexden’s final question, sadly, is no. We remain of the view that this is a matter for the local police and crime commissioner to handle, and it would not be appropriate for the Government to seek to persuade him how to go about this.
My Lords, I perform the traditional duty of thanking all participants in this debate with particular strength and great sincerity. Like many others, I commiserate with my noble friend who had the task of replying to this debate. She will realise at once that she leaves the House entirely and completely dissatisfied.
Across the House, we have been of one accord, united in a common purpose and determined to see justice done in this exceptionally important case, which has quite rightly attracted widespread public attention. A Conservative statesman has been traduced. We must have the truth, and we will get it.
I asked the Government four specific detailed questions about the conduct of Operation Conifer, its dire consequences and the need for an inquiry. What has been said in reply to this debate does not suffice by way of answer. I trust that I will have full answers to all four questions and that they will be sent as soon as possible to all those who have taken part in this debate and placed in the Library of the House. The most important of the four, as I stressed, was the last, on the seven unsubstantiated allegations. They simply must be examined and cleared up.
Those who care about the reputation of Ted Heath today; those who write and lecture today, this generation and the generations to come, as historians—and I speak as an historian—must have the full, definitive facts. We must have an accurate historical record.
Those who have debated this Motion have made clear their absolute support for it. Among those who have spoken, the Contents have had it without a single Not-Content—and I am content with that clear moral victory this evening in this important debate. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.
House adjourned at 8.56 pm.