By Michael Holden
LONDON (Reuters) - Edward Heath, British prime minister from 1970 to 1974, would have been questioned about claims he sexually abused boys if he were alive today, police said after a two-year investigation into the allegations.
Heath, who died 12 years ago, would have been interviewed under caution over seven allegations including raping an 11-year-old boy and indecently assaulting men and other boys, one aged 10.
The alleged incidents occurred from 1956 to 1992 while he was a Member of Parliament but not prime minister, said Wiltshire Police, the force in western England which headed the national investigation named Operation Conifer.
Supporters of Heath, who never married, have said the investigation was an expensive, flawed witch-hunt.
"In the case of seven individual disclosures, if Sir Edward Heath had been alive today, it has been concluded he would have been interviewed under caution in order to obtain his account in relation to the allegations made against him," Wiltshire Police said in a statement.
"No inference of guilt should be drawn by the decision to interview under caution. The account from Sir Edward Heath would have been as important as other evidence gathered as part of the investigation."
In total, 40 individuals came forward with accusations against the former British leader. Of these, evidence undermining the claims were found in 19 cases and three accusers later concluded they were mistaken in naming Heath.
In 10 other cases, the claims were made by a third party while three were made anonymously, so police said no findings had been concluded in these incidents.
Heath became prime minister in 1970 and most notably negotiated Britain's entry into the European Economic Community which later became the EU. He was ousted from Downing Street in 1974 when he lost two elections after a miners' strike helped bring down the government.
He then lost the leadership of the Conservative Party to Margaret Thatcher in 1975, whom he never forgave and repeatedly criticized in what detractors described as "the longest sulk in history". He remained a lawmaker until 2001 and died in 2005 aged 89.
An artillery officer in World War Two, he was very private and was widely regarded as an awkward, prickly man with little gift for small talk.
He was passionate about music and also shone as a yachtsman, owning five racing yachts named Morning Cloud, and once winning the Sydney to Hobart race.
He even took part in competitions while prime minister, skippering the British team to victory in the 1971 Admiral's Cup, a five-day yacht race off southern England and Ireland.
"TELLS US NOTHING"
Heath's godson, artist Lincoln Seligman who knew the former Conservative leader for 50 years, said the police investigation had cast a stain over a man who could not defend himself.
"If allegations are out there he might easily have been called in for questioning," he told BBC radio. "But ... that’s a very low bar and in the case of a dead man it's practically no bar at all. So yes they had to question him but that tells us nothing."
Britain has been rocked by a series of child abuse scandals in recent years with the most notable involving the late TV and radio presenter Jimmy Savile.
A five-year public inquiry is now looking into whether powerful figures in politics, churches, or local government helped cover up abuse, but other investigations into historical claims have been damned.
A scathing report last November said police were guilty of serious failings in a major inquiry into alleged child sex abuse by high-profile figures based on claims from a man known only by the pseudonym of “Nick”.
These claims were later rejected by detectives, leading to personal apologies from London's police chief to those involved: ex-lawmaker Harvey Proctor, former army chief Edwin Bramall and the widow of Leon Brittan, a former minister in Thatcher’s government who died without knowing he had been cleared.
"As a result of the Jimmy Savile affair, the pendulum has swung so far the other way, in that there’s now an order out there that victims should be believed, that seems to undermine any investigation," Seligman said.
"So in (Heath's) case ... a proper investigation should've taken place and that's not what happened."
(Additional reporting by Polina Ivanova; editing by Stephen Addison)