To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the replies by Baroness Williams of Trafford on
My Lords, decisions on how to conduct investigations are the responsibility of the force concerned following guidance issued by the College of Policing. The college’s recently updated guidance makes it clear that the names of suspects, including those who are deceased, should be released only where there is a legitimate policing purpose. Operational advice to senior officers investigating allegations of more recent child sexual abuse involving institutions or people of public prominence is also being updated.
My Lords, as the Government persist in refusing to commission an independent review of Operation Conifer, perhaps they will muster the courage to express a considered view themselves. Operation Conifer produced not a single shred of credible evidence that Sir Edward Heath might have been guilty of child abuse, and a lot of credible evidence to show that he was not. Of the 42 allegations investigated by Wiltshire Police, 35 were dismissed. Of the remaining seven unresolved allegations, four can be shown to be without foundation. The other three are probably equally baseless, the product of a conspiracy to create and disseminate false allegations of child abuse by national figures such as Lord Bramall, Lord Brittan and Sir Edward Heath. Does the Minister agree that Operation Conifer’s report falls far short of the standards of probability required to justify the institution of a criminal prosecution, if Sir Edward Heath had still been alive to be prosecuted? Does justice not require us to accept that Sir Edward Heath was not a child abuser and to consign Operation Conifer to the dustbin of history?
No one could have done more to safeguard and defend the integrity and reputation of Sir Edward Heath than the noble Lord. On the Government’s role, the noble Lord, together with my noble friends Lord Hunt and Lord MacGregor, went to see the Home Secretary on
On the broader issues, I find it compelling that those who knew Sir Edward personally do not believe that there is one scintilla of truth in the accusations that were made. The noble Lord asked me to state from the Dispatch Box that in my view, had Sir Edward lived, the case would not have reached the level at which the CPS would institute a case. I hope that he, as a former Cabinet Secretary, will understand that it would not be right for a Minister to make such a pronouncement.
The House will appreciate the tone of the Minister’s reply, which seemed very fair, but the excellent Question from the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, refers to historical allegations. These are not, of course, allegations by historians. We have a tradition in politics in this country of allowing these accusations to fester over decades, with the result that it is very difficult to form a clear view. If we were addressing matters that were, let us say, medical or scientific we would have authoritative and qualified people to deal with them. Could we not have appropriate scholarly authorities deal with this matter?
This whole episode illustrates the problems confronting the police. On the one hand they are conducting thorough investigations and taking complainant’s allegations seriously, and on the other avoiding unfair damage to the reputation of people who can no longer defend themselves. The College of Policing has reflected on this challenge as part of its review of guidance in this area. The previous Home Secretary asked Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary to see how this guidance is working. I hope that as part of that review, HMIC will take on board the very strong views expressed on many occasions by those on all sides of the House about the way the guidance is operating.
My Lords, this House has consistently urged the Government to take action. No action has been taken. The reputation of a great statesman has been trashed and traduced. The reputation of a fine Field Marshall has been questioned. The reputation of an admirable colleague and former Home Secretary has been trashed. What do we have to do to persuade the Government to set up an independent inquiry under a judicial figure to look at these things and to report back to Parliament? Why cannot this be done?
This was precisely the proposition in respect of Sir Edward that was put to the Home Secretary at the meeting on