Years after news first broke that something unseemly was afoot in Parliament, it appears the mainstream media and public-at-large are finally taking notice of the Westminster child sex abuse scandal. And the name that's changed it all is undoubtedly Sir Edward Heath's. During my research into my own article about the scandal, I found Heath's name kept coming up alongside some unbelievably high-profile ones, even if none of the accusations against the one-time PM could be verified. So, was I surprised when it was announced last week that Heath was included in the ongoing police investigation into child sex abuse, an investigation which includes 76 politicians both living and dead? No.
Does it shock me to learn that the number of police forces independently investigating Heath grows day by day (the number now totals seven), or that previous investigations into Heath were purportedly quashed, or that a number of alleged victims - including a friend of Sir Jimmy Savile's nephew - have come forward to claim they were abused by Heath? No. Am I surprised that presumptuous journalists are leaping to Heath's defence without any definitive evidence of their own? Absolutely not. Almost as though they've learned nothing from seeing former defenders of Savile and Cyril Smith go quiet when the allegations became too many to ignore, some are ridiculing the Heath investigation and putting their necks on the line for the former Prime Minister.
Last week, writers in The Telegraph and, somewhat surprisingly, the Guardian penned pieces defending Heath and his legacy. (Bizarrely, The Spectator also published an article repudiating any abuse claims, only this one was written by a convicted paedophile.) For The Telegraph's Dan Hodges, the "Edward Heath witch hunt" is almost "entertaining". Never mind the alleged victims, because for Hodges, the case is settled - "I don't think there are any victims of Edward Heath", he writes. Hodges rubbishes the notion that Heath's sailing trips were in any way inappropriate, without mentioning the fact that Heath would place ads in scouting magazines for boys to 'Join Uncle Ted on a trip of a lifetime' on his yacht.
The Guardian's Simon Jenkins isn't quite as cocksure, though he still agonises over the impact all this will have on Heath's reputation, as he argues that the "case against Edward Heath looks flimsy". Which is patently wrong: as the investigation snowballs, the NSPCC receives calls accusing Heath of abuse, his links to prominent paedophiles like Jimmy Savile and Peter Jaconelli are studied, and police prepare to take the investigation national. That Heath attended meetings held by the Paedophile Information Exchange appears most damning, however.
I can't claim to have any conclusive answers about Ted Heath, but I - as everyone should - respect those alleged victims enough not to dismiss their claims on a hunch. I don't take such stock in my opinion that I would assume I can tell when a potential victim (or in this case, victims) is or isn't lying. I understand Simon Jenkins's and Norman Tebbit's (who also wrote last week in the Telegraph) concern about defamation, but the fact is that Ted Heath died in 2005, a decade ago - I doubt the prospect of defamation troubles him too much anymore. The alleged victims, on the other hand, are still alive; if they're right, and Sir Edward Heath was part of a network that destroyed their childhood for the sake of personal satisfaction, then I'd rather a viciously sceptical media didn't give them second thoughts about coming forward.
People like Jenkins and Hodges are playing a potentially very foolish game, especially when their opinions are being aired so publicly. After the death of Jimmy Savile, friends and family came out in defence of his character; so too Leon Brittan. Now the allegations against both are so numerous, you'll find few to defend either man anymore. Now you can only assume the people who defended Savile because they 'knew him so well', or who considered the victims liars, are feeling distinctly embarrassed. This scandal has proven that one can speak too soon; it's proven that maybe you can never know anybody that well.Suggest a correction