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Operation Conifer: Mike Veale ‘appalled’ by previous cover-ups over child sexual abuse

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FOIA CentreLondon
Operation Conifer: Mike Veale ‘appalled’ by previous cover-ups over child sexual abuse
Officers on Wiltshire Police’s highly sensitive investigation into Sir Edward Heath discover failures by forces across country to follow up allegations, reveals Mark Watts

• Chief constable Mike Veale ‘sick to death' of police failures over sexual abuse of children

• Edward Heath sexually abused girls as well as boys, witnesses told officers

• National Police Chiefs’ Council reviews Operation Conifer and gives it seal of approval

By Mark Watts

Wiltshire Police’s chief constable is “sick to death” of repeated past failures to investigate prominent people for child sexual abuse properly.

Mike Veale has told friends that he is “appalled” by the discoveries of ‘Operation Conifer’, his force’s national investigation into allegations against Sir Edward Heath, former prime minister.

More than 30 people have come forward to Operation Conifer to claim that Ted Heath sexually abused them as children. Investigators found that several of them had long ago made complaints to police forces around the country, but officers had failed to follow them up properly.

A source close to Veale said: “He was appalled. He was just sick to death of people covering up for people.”

The disclosure helps explain why Veale has remained resolute despite intense public and private pressure to drop the operation.

A second friend of Veale said that the chief constable was feeling “persecuted”.

Friends and former colleagues of Heath insist that he is innocent.

Wiltshire Police is due to publish a summary report on Thursday. I revealed last month how police delayed publication of Operation Conifer’s summary report to avoid overshadowing the Conservative party conference with its conclusion that detectives would interview Heath under caution if he were still alive.

A third source said: “Mike knows that he is going to have a shit storm.”

I can reveal today:

• Operation Conifer received evidence that Heath sexually abused under-age girls as well as boys, although it has many more male complainants;

• police whistleblowers came forward to Veale to allege repeated past failures to investigate child sexual abuse properly;

• the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) conducted a review of Operation Conifer and found it to have been proportionate and justified.

The NPCC carried out its review via ‘Operation Hydrant’, which co-ordinates investigations into allegations against prominent people of child sexual abuse.

Operation Hydrant, headed by another chief constable, Simon Bailey, of Norfolk Constabulary, asked Wiltshire Police in 2015 to lead the national investigation into Heath after more than a dozen police forces launched their own cases in response to people who came forward.

Meanwhile, the picture above of Heath in a small sailing boat has emerged. It is not thought to have been published before, but is understood to have been taken in Jersey in 1972, while Heath was prime minister. Its copyright owner is unknown. Anyone with information about the picture is asked to come forward.

[Update: readers have, as requested, provided further information about the picture, which appears to have been taken in Nice in 1965.]

Despite claims that Heath never drove, Operation Conifer found that he owned two cars. I can also reveal that it discovered that he had two sets of numbers plates for one of them, and can find no explanation for this irregular arrangement.

Operation Conifer’s summary report says that officers would need to carry out further investigative work if Heath were still alive, according to well-placed sources.

This includes interviewing Heath under caution in relation to seven men who came forward to allege sexual abuse. Officers regard another two witnesses as only just falling short of that threshold.

The third source said: “They are being ultra-cautious.”

Many of the other complainants suffer mental health problems. Although officers believe the vast majority of them, they conclude that all but a few could not withstand going through the criminal-justice system.

Their view underlines a continuing prejudice against survivors of child sexual abuse, especially those attacked by prominent people.

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) published guidance that touches on this issue in 2013, which says: “It is recognised that some adult victims of childhood sexual abuse may suffer severe mental health problems as a result of their experience and may never be able to give evidence in court. However, it should not be overlooked that they may have important information which might be of assistance in supporting the account given by other victim(s) against the same offender(s).”

The first source said that officers recognised that this guidance applies to many of their witnesses, saying: “Many are, inevitably, very damaged by the very abuse about which they are complaining.”

The summary report details at length the procedures used to investigate the allegations, especially from the seven most credible witnesses.

Mark Watts (@MarkWatts_1) is the co-ordinator of the FOIA Centre and former editor-in-chief of Exaro.

An article first published by Mark Watts on Byline on 4 October 2017 under the headline “Operation Conifer: Mike Veale ‘appalled’ by previous cover-ups over child sexual abuse”, contained an image of Sir Edward Heath with an invitation to readers to click through to a better crop of the picture on the FOIA Centre’s website which showed him in a small sailing boat with what appeared to be another adult male and a teenage boy.  The article stated that the photograph was understood to have been taken during his time as prime minister. It subsequently became clear that the information provided about the photograph was incorrect.  IMPRESS found that the journalist posting the article on Byline had not taken all reasonable steps to ensure accuracy prior to publication. Placement of the image and instructions to click through to a better crop of the picture, alongside an article about Operation Conifer, with information that implied that it had direct significance to the substance of that investigation, led to a breach by Byline of the IMPRESS Standards Code.  An updated version of the article also breached the Code because it did not adequately correct that significant inaccuracy. Byline has now removed the link to ‘a better crop of the picture’ and the references to it in the article, in line with an adjudication by IMPRESS. Click (here to read the full adjudication.

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