“Sources” Leak More Details of Edward Heath Investigation – and a Misdescribed Photo Emerges

Photo supposedly showing Heath with a boy in Jersey in 1972 was actually Heath with his godson in France in 1965

This afternoon, Wiltshire Police will at long last officially publish a summary report of its two-year investigation into allegations of child sex abuse against the late former prime minister Edward Heath. For all this time, the force and has been urging the media and the public not to “speculate”, while leaking details to sympathetic journalists and other “stakeholders”.

The latest leaked preview has come from Mark Watts, who formerly worked for Exaro News. In 2014, Watts famously accompanied the “Westminster VIP paedophile ring” accuser “Nick” in an early visit to the Metropolitan Police, after which the force announced “Operation Midland”; alas, however, it transpired that Nick was either a fantasist or a hoaxer, and “Operation Midland” is now a byword for a police fiasco.

Watts therefore hopes that credible allegations against Heath will demonstrate the reality of “Westminster VIP child sex abuse” after all, thus rehabilitating his journalistic reputation and reviving a tabloid taste for lurid allegations that were widely publicised during 2014 and 2015, but which from the perspective of late 2017 look absurdly overblown and as dated as old 1980s newspaper clippings about Satanic Ritual Abuse.

Watts’s revelations include the following details:

…the picture above of Heath in a small sailing boat with what appears to be a teenage boy and an adult male has emerged. It is not thought to have been published before, but is understood to have been taken in Jersey in 1972, while Heath was prime minister. Its copyright owner is unknown. Anyone with information about the picture is asked to come forward.

Despite claims that Heath never drove, Operation Conifer found that he owned two cars. I can also reveal that it discovered that he had two sets of numbers plates for one of them, and can find no explanation for this irregular arrangement.

The claim that Heath “never drove” has been extrapolated from a comment made by Lord Armstrong in 2015, that in his experience of working with Heath from 1970, Heath “never drove a car himself, he always had an official driver”.  However, in February this year the Mail on Sunday published photos that showed Heath driving a car in 1975. Armstrong did not allege that Heath was unable to drive or had never owned a car in his life – and John Campbell’s 1993 biography makes it clear that Heath was indeed a driver.

Armstrong spoke off-the-cuff in a radio interview, and his words were obviously a casual recollection. Yet somehow this has been inflated into “claims”, and the mundane fact that that Heath did in fact drive is now presented as a significant rediscovery of suppressed history.

On the “two sets of numberplates” issue, just because Wiltshire Police “can find no explanation”, that does not mean that there is no explanation. I don’t claim to know what it is, but my initial guess would be that it was an counter-IRA security measure  – Heath’s home in Belgravia was famously bombed in late 1974. On Twitter, Watts writes that “Officers on Operation Conifer are well aware that people who have two number plates for a car are usually criminals”; but his reference to an “irregular arrangement” indicates that Heath’s number-plates were approved by the authorities. “Criminals”, in contrast, have false number-plates.

However, these insinuations pale beside the claim about the boat. The website Real Troll Exposure has found that the photo was actually taken in 1965 on the French Riviera, and that Watts’s “boat boy” is in fact Heath’s godson Lincoln Seligman, who is today a vocal defender of Heath’s memory. The moment is documented in a British Pathé newsreel item called “Party Heads Relax”, which has been available on YouTube since 2014.

So where did the incorrect “Jersey in 1972” provenance come from? One of the 2015 allegations was that Heath supposedly abused children from the Haut de la Garenne children’s care home in Jersey, in particular while taking them on trips aboard his yacht, the Morning Cloud. It has been established that there was abuse at the care home, particularly during the 1970s, and one lawyer told the Independent:

“There seems to have been this currency that somehow he was implicated, but it was always like pinning down a jellyfish – it was very elusive.”

Heath’s name was included in “Operation Whistle“, a police investigation into allegations of child sex abuse on the island, although no evidence was found against him. Indeed, there doesn’t even seem to have been any specific accuser or witness.

More outlandishly, a woman named Linda Corby claims that she once saw eleven children from the home go aboard Heath’s yacht, but only ten return. She then reported this to police, who told her that they had been told “not to investigate”. She complains that there is now no record of her complaint, although it seems to me that the lack of any missing child is of more significance.

Corby says that this was in the early 1970s, which was when Heath was prime minister, but there doesn’t seem to be any evidence that Heath visited Jersey at this time. One Mirror report from 2015 carries a claim that Heath spent six months at the Waters Edge hotel in Bouley Bay “in the early 70s”  convalescing from an operation and visiting the pub next door, but this is ludicrously inconsistent with his duties running the country at that time – although journalistic standards today are such that the hack (who is probably too young to remember Heath’s time as Prime Minister) didn’t bother to check with other sources.

So why has Watts now promoted bogus evidence linking Heath to Jersey in 1972? Is this a misapprehension that Wiltshire Police is also under?

UPDATE: Watts’s article was published on his FIOA Centre website, but he also cross-posted it to the news platform Byline, which is regulated by IMPRESS (more details on Byline in previous posts here and here). A formal complaint was made to IMPRESS by Simon Just (previously blogged here) about the boat image, and the body agreed that there had been a “significant inaccuracy” that had not been sufficiently corrected.

The complaint adjudication document can be accessed here. It includes details of Watts’s account of how he came by the image:

On 16 October 2017, the Publisher provided additional information from the Author explaining that an anonymous source had passed him the photograph and told him that it had been found in an overseas newspaper archive, captioned as having been taken in Jersey in 1972. It went on to explain that the Author had tried to discover the provenance of the photograph via a reverse-images search.

By writing that that photo “is understood to have been taken in Jersey in 1972”, Watts allowed himself a bit of wriggle room, but the phrase heavily implied some supporting evidence or authoritative source – not a random anonymous claim that was completely unsupported.

Thus IMPRESS writes:

The article inaccurately stated that the image was ‘understood’ to have been taken in Jersey in 1972 while Sir Edward Heath was prime minister when in fact this was based solely on a claim by the anonymous source who had provided the image, which was subsequently proved to be incorrect.

…. By publishing an invitation to readers to click through to a better crop of the picture, alongside inaccurate information about the date and location of the picture, having been unable to verify its provenance and taking account of the sensitive subject matter of the article, the Committee concluded that the Publisher had breached clause 1,1 of the Standards Code by not taking all reasonable steps to ensure accuracy.

….Additional information about the picture had been inserted into the body of the article after readers came forward with details of the correct location and year the photograph was taken, along with the identities of the parties pictured who were family friends of Sir Edward Heath. However, this was insufficient to correct the significant inaccuracy in the original article.

Just also complained that Watts gave the false impression “that it was the police who were seeking further information about the photograph, rather than the author of the article”. IMPRESS does not make a conclusion on this point either way, but it’s a very reasonable point; certainly, I wasn’t clear how the photo related to Operation Conifer.

IMPRESS also notes that “Byline operates as a crowdfunded platform for news and does not editorialise content published by the journalists that it partners with”.