The police force under investigation by the Independent Police Complaints Commission for allegedly covering up child sex abuse claims against Ted Heath, is to lead a national probe into the former Prime Minister.
Wiltshire Police will take charge of a string of investigations, involving at least seven forces, currently taking place into claims that the late prime minister was sexually abusing children.
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But just last week Wiltshire Police was at the centre of the revelations which led to Sir Edward becoming the highest profile figure to be embroiled in historic paedophile allegations.
The force is being investigated over claims that a prosecution was shelved after a threat was made to expose the former politician.
Officers in the county, which is led by chief constable Mike Veale, will work with colleagues around Britain to establish a ‘national investigative strategy’.
A single senior investigating officer – likely to be from Wiltshire – will also be appointed, it is understood.
The force said it will lead on the ‘national oversight and coordination of any investigations into Sir Edward Heath’.
Operation Hydrant, a national hub coordinating inquiries into historical abuse, has been liaising with forces which received information concerning Sir Edward.
A Wiltshire Police spokesman said: ‘This decision has been taken following consultation between Operation Hydrant and affected forces and is based on operational considerations.
The appointment of a lead force is to ensure that a consistent approach is adopted across the police forces concerned and to avoid duplication.
‘Wiltshire Police will now be working with the respective forces to establish an appropriate national investigative strategy and supporting structure.
‘Due to the complexities of this task it is anticipated that this will take a number of weeks to finalise. One of the first tasks will be to assess the new information that has been received following the appeals for information made last week.’
The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) is also looking into whether Wiltshire Police subsequently followed up the claim against Sir Edward, which was allegedly made in the 1990s.
Asked if it was appropriate for the force to have the role at the same time as the watchdog’s inquiry, a spokeswoman said: ‘The IPCC investigation into matters that occurred in the 1990s is entirely independent of Wiltshire Police.
‘Allegations of previous failures in the 1990s are being independently investigated by the IPCC.
‘We are confident that we now investigate abuse to a very high standard and are committed to investigating these allegations fully without fear or favour.
MP John Mann backed the decision. He said: ‘I’m happy with it – having one police force running the investigation is what is needed.’
His view was echoed by Labour colleague Simon Danczuk.
He said: ‘I think there is a view that the Metropolitan Police should lead on it but I am not sure why that is the case.’
MP Tom Watson said the news was welcome but questioned why it has ‘taken so long’.
He said: ‘The ad hoc approach to these complex cases means it is more likely that intelligence is not properly acted upon and undermines public confidence in continuing enquiries.’
After the IPCC investigation was announced, Wiltshire Police immediately appealed for potential victims and others with information to come forward.
In the days that followed, it emerged that detectives in Kent, Jersey, Hampshire, London, Gloucestershire and Thames Valley are also carrying out inquiries linked to allegations against Sir Edward.
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