London: Former British prime minister Edward Heath was named in an alleged claim of historical child sexual abuse made in the 1990s, Britain's police watchdog the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) said on Monday.
The IPCC said that it will investigate allegations concerning the handling of the claim by local police in Wiltshire, where Heath had lived for many years before he died in 2005 at the age of 89. The allegations were referred to the IPCC by Wiltshire Police following allegations made by a retired senior officer, the police watchdog said.
"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," Xinhua quoted the IPCC as saying in a statement. "In addition to this allegation, the IPCC will examine whether Wiltshire Police subsequently took any steps to investigate these claims," it added.
The IPCC urged witnesses to speak to trained counsellors at the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) to help with the investigation. In response to the news, Wiltshire Police said it is "carrying out enquiries to identify if there are any witnesses or victims who support the allegations of child sex abuse".
"On becoming aware of the information, Wiltshire Police informed the IPCC and later made a mandatory referral. The IPCC investigation will specifically consider how the force responded to allegations when they were received in the 1990's," a spokesperson for Wiltshire Police said in a statement.
"Sir Edward Heath has been named in relation to offences concerning children. He lived in Salisbury for many years and we would like to hear from anyone who has any relevant information that may assist us in our enquiries or anyone who believes they may have been a victim," the statement noted.
"We take all reports of child abuse, either current or that occurred in the past very seriously. Victims will receive support throughout any investigation and associated judicial process," it continued. Heath, born in 1916, served as British prime minister from 1970 to 1974. He was known for taking Britain into the European Economic Community, which subsequently became today's European Union.