The police watchdog is to investigate Wiltshire police’s handling of a child sex abuse claim allegedly made against former Prime Minister Sir Edward Heath in the 1990s.
The force is to be probed after allegations made by a retired senior officer were referred to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC).
An IPCC spokesman said it is to investigate “allegations concerning Wiltshire Police's handling of an alleged claim of child sexual abuse made in the 1990s”.
He added: “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.
“In addition to this allegation, the IPCC will examine whether Wiltshire Police subsequently took any steps to investigate these claims.”
Heath, a Conservative, was prime minister between 1970 and 1974 and had a home in Wiltshire county. He died in 2005.
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.
A police spokesperson said: "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 1990s.
"Sir Edward Heath has been named in relation to offences concerning children. He lived in Salisbury for many yars 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."
“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.
“If there is evidence of offences having been committed we will ensure that , if possible, those responsible are held to account through a thorough and detailed investigation. This includes any other parties who are identified as having been involved in child sex abuse."
Wiltshire Police stressed that it is working with the NSPCC to ensure that any victims are appropriately supported and urged people to contact the force and not to suffer in silence.
Wiltshire Police and Crime Commissioner Angus Macpherson said his office has monitored the process of the investigation "at every stage," adding that he will be "watching closely to see if any evidence of corruption or poor practice is uncovered".
“My priority as Commissioner is to put the interests of victims at the heart of everything we do, as well as holding the Force to account for its performance," he said.
"We have often seen from high profile national cases that victims, who have not spoken of their abuse for many years, find their voice and speak out. I want any victims of child sex abuse, whether current or historic, to know they can have confidence in the service they will receive from Wiltshire Police."
NSPCC chief executive Peter Wanless said it is important that those who believe they may have been the victims of abuse have the confidence to speak up.
“Whether abuse happened in the past, or is occurring today, whether those being accused are authority figures or not, allegations of crimes against children must be investigated thoroughly.
“While some people wait years before speaking out we would urge them to act quickly so they can get help as soon as possible. Our trained helpline counsellors are always on duty round the clock to listen and provide assistance.”
Additional reporting by agencies
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