WILTSHIRE POLICE: Operation Conifer reports on Sir Ted HEATH CSA Allegations
The national investigation into allegations of child sexual abuse against Sir Edward Heath led by Wiltshire Police which is codenamed Operation Conifer has now reported. This has unquestionably been one of the most controversial national investigations in the history of the British Police Service and it has raised serious questions about policing policy and relations between the police and the media.
The report can be read here. A statement by the Wiltshire Police Gold Commander for Operation Conifer, Assistant Chief Constable Paul Mills concerning the conduct of the investigation can be viewed here. It is a very good summary of the investigation and the reasons why the police service pursued a major criminal investigation into a deceased person, that had no possibility of bringing him to trial.
The key points are summarised in this Guardian article.
North Yorks Enquirer assistance to Operation Conifer
Regular readers will know that the NYE team carried out a very successful investigation into a paedophile ring led by Scarborough’s Conservative Mayor Councillor Peter Jaconelli, which included Jimmy Savile and others. This ring operated with the full knowledge of North Yorkshire Police (NYP) and its predecessor Force the North Riding Constabulary. North Yorkshire Police Assistant Chief Constable Sue Cross investigated our allegations and concluded they were groundless. She didn’t even bother interviewing any of the witnesses.
Eventually, the BBC conducted an investigation here, which forced North Yorkshire Police to refer itself to the IPCC and re-investigate our claims in Operation Hibiscus. This admitted that our allegations were correct effectively quashing the Cross Report. Force statement here.
As part of our coverage, we sourced this photograph of Prime Minister Edward Heath on an official visit to Scarborough in the 1970s, when he met Jaconelli, which we ran as a photoon. This was before the allegations about Sir Edward Heath were public knowledge.
This led to uninformed press speculation that Sir Edward Heath may have been a member of the Jaconelli paedophile ring. Full story here.
The NYE was contacted by Wiltshire Police and asked to assist their investigation, by attending at a police station to be questioned about the contact between Sir Edward Heath and Peter Jaconelli. I attended at Swindon Police Station voluntarily and gave them a full breakdown on Jaconelli’s offending. But made it clear that although Sir Edward Heath had met Jaconelli on an official visit and had visited Scarborough and Whitby on his yacht, I had no knowledge of any allegations against Mr Heath and was unaware of any evidence linking him to any offending.
I was very pleased to read that nowhere in the report is there any reference to offending or allegations in North Yorkshire. This leads me to conclude that the NYE investigation was again accurate in its conclusion that Sir Edward Heath was not a member of the Jaconelli ring.
The Operation Conifer investigation did reveal that one part of the NYE investigation was in error. I had assumed that Mr Heath had a permanent Special Branch bodyguard assigned to him from 1970 onwards. This was not the case. I am grateful to Wiltshire Police for revealing this error and happy to publish a correction here.
I was very well treated by the Operation Conifer team, I am very glad as a journalist to have acted responsibly and to have been able to assist the police in this investigation.
The police and the media: The onslaught of media criticism and speculation against Chief Constable Veale
As Assistant Chief Constable Paul Mills makes clear in this statement, it is not the case that Wiltshire Police or Chief Constable Veale themselves decided to pursue this investigation. Operation Conifer was a national investigation to co-ordinate confidential enquires that were ongoing, when a press release from the IPCC in August 2015, revealed that it was investigating Wiltshire Police, in connection with an alleged failure to investigate Sir Edward Heath in 1994, over allegations of child sexual abuse (Operation Marble). Wiltshire Police appealed for witnesses and this led to witnesses coming forward across multiple force areas. Accordingly Wiltshire Police were ordered to take the national lead in the enquiry by the National Police Chief’s Council.
The existence of Operation Conifer has led to an onslaught of criticism of the investigation – much of it personalised – against Chief Constable Veale, from Mr Heath’s friends, family and senior political figures. The NYE faced a similar onslaught from the same vested interests during our Jaconelli investigation.
Unusually, on the 2nd of December 2015, Chief Constable Veale issued a public statement about Operation Conifer stating that it was not a “witch hunt” or a “fishing trip” and expressing his determination to “impartially investigate allegations without fear or favour, and go where the evidence takes us”. BBC Report here.
Although Chief Constable Veale has been supported by some political figures, the vast majority of the press and parliamentary comment has been highly critical. I think that this is unfair, given that the investigation was in line with policing policy and Chief Constable Veale was acting under orders to conduct a national investigation.
That is not to say that mistakes were not made during the course of the Operation Conifer investigation:
- The initial appeal for information filmed from outside Mr Heath’s home at Arundels in Salisbury, was insensitive. But it nevertheless produced a large number of witnesses that came forward to assist the investigation.
- Chief Constable Veale’s decision to share the report with an MP who was not his own constituency MP, or an MP from a Wiltshire Constituency has been controversial. However, no other Chief Constable in the history of policing has faced such a barrage of public criticism. Under these circumstances, it is understandable that having faced this degree of unprecedented personalised parliamentary criticism from associates of Mr Heath, he would feel the need to take specialist advice from a parliamentarian on a confidential basis.
Chief Constable Veale’s comments on the press coverage, the need to conduct the investigation, the independent scrutiny of Operation Conifer to ensure the investigation was impartial and compliant with the College of Policing guidance and legislation are here. Chief Constable Veale also comments on the calls for a judicial review into Operation Conifer, which – incredibly – were made before the investigation was even concluded.
Police & Crime Commissioner for Wiltshire and Swindon Angus Mcpherson has confirmed that as the person responsible for oversight of Wiltshire Police he is satisfied with the governance of Operation Conifer and the conduct of Chief Constable Veale. His statement is here.
The media and parliamentary response to Operation Conifer raises a very serious issue for the media of balancing when to meet the public demand for informed press comment against the need not to prejudice a police investigation with intrusive press comment. Or the temptation to issue spurious press comment (e.g. the speculation about Ted Heath and Peter Jaconelli) to generate newspaper sales.
Fortunately, as unpaid citizen journalists writing for a volunteer internet news magazine, we are immune to the temptation to invent stories that meet popular demand, keeping circulation figures high, but having no substance. My views on this are well known and can be read here, here and here. Although the NYE covered the Operation Conifer investigation, this was in a responsible way. Our reporting was in accordance with the overwhelming principle that it is wrong for journalists to do anything that will prejudice an ongoing police investigation or a trial.
The Wiltshire Police investigation into Sir Edward Heath and the multiple North Yorkshire Police Investigations into Peter Jaconelli and Jimmy Savile compared.
I think it would be helpful to make a few comparisons between the Wiltshire Police investigation and the NYP investigations.
- Both were historical investigations into prominent public figures accuse of sexual abuse.
- Wiltshire immediately started their investigation with a successful appeal for witnesses. In the first NYP investigation, NYP denied that Savile had any connections to the area, although in fact he lived in Scarborough, North Yorkshire, had appeared at a public event with the Chief Constable and had been driven there in a NYP police car. In the second investigation by Assistant Chief Constable Sue Cross, no appeal for information was made and she did not bother interviewing any of the existing witnesses. It was only after the BBC Inside Out documentary above in which I participated forced NYP to launch its third investigation – “Operation Hibiscus” – that an appeal for witnesses was made. Predictably, many came forward, ultimately leading to the confirmation that Peter Jaconelli was a paedophile and rapist. He offended in joint enterprise with Jimmy Savile, despite multiple complaints being made to NYP, which were all ignored. Arguably the worst case of police corruption in the history of policing in North Yorkshire.
- Whenever Operation Conifer uncovered evidence of police misconduct, Wiltshire Police referred it to the IPCC. Two referrals were made in addition to Operation Marble. Both related to failure to disclose allegations of offending. Conversely, although NYP conceded that there had been rampant misconduct relating to a failure to disclose or investigate allegations of offending by Peter Jaconelli and Jimmy Savile, North Yorkshire Police, unlike Wiltshire Police, took no action against any officer. In particular, no action was taken against Assistant Chief Constable Sue Cross. One Detective Sergeant was the subject of an IPCC investigation, arising from a separate HMIC enquiry.
- Wiltshire Police CID and its Press Office worked very well with Citizen journalists. The NYP Press Office does not.
- The Wiltshire investigation did not attribute guilt, on the basis that only a trial could credibly determine guilt and Sir Edward Heath was not alive to defend himself. It confined its comments to confirming that in some of the allegations there was sufficient evidence to justify interviewing him under caution. The NYP investigation went further. It concluded that whilst recognising the Peter Jaconelli and Jimmy Savile were not available for interview, there was enough evidence without interviewing them to forward a file to the CPS. This is understandable, given that there was far more evidence against Savile and Jaconelli. Very properly, neither force speculated on what action the CPS may have taken. The NYP statement on Operation Hibiscus has disappeared from the NYP website, but can be seen here.
Chief Constable Mike Veale: Stood up to a barrage of media criticism to support his officers in a sensitive investigation
In their video statements above, both Chief Constable Veale and PCC Mcpherson stress the importance of investigating allegations of sexual abuse of children. By referring all allegations of police failing to disclose allegations of offending discovered during the investigation to the IPCC, Wiltshire Police has also demonstrated its commitment to high standards and accountability in investigation of sexual abuse – a commitment that has been so conspicuously lacking in North Yorkshire Police.
The full report has been provided to the Independent Investigation into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA). The NYE will cover any comment or observations on from the IICSA on Operation Conifer and Operation Hibiscus in due course.