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Former British PM named in child sex abuse investigation

AFP file photo | Former British Prime Minister Edward Heath pictured in 1989

Allegations linking Britain's former prime minister Edward Heath to child sex abuse threatened fresh disgrace for Britain's political establishment on Tuesday amid a raft of paedophilia claims at the highest levels.

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Heath led Britain between 1970 and 1974, taking it into the European Economic Community in 1973, and was known as a curmudgeonly bachelor who loved sailing and classical music. He died in 2005 at the age of 89.

Now he has become the most senior figure to join the ranks of prominent Westminster politicians accused, many of them posthumously, of sexually abusing children.

The claims come as Britain enters a crucial stage in its efforts to investigate claims that people in its social elite repeatedly carried out and concealed child sex abuse in the second half of the 20th century.

"I'm in absolutely no doubt that there were a significant number of politicians and many others in high society ... who were committing child sexual abuse and probably continue to do so," Simon Danczuk, an opposition Labour MP and a leading campaigner on the issue, told Sky News television.

Other politicians under suspicion

Heath was drawn into the scandal on Monday when the Independent Police Complaints Commission, a police watchdog, said it would investigate a retired policeman's claim that a prosecution was dropped in the 1990s when the accused threatened to expose the ex-premier.

Tuesday's Daily Mirror newspaper carried an allegation from a man who said he was raped by Heath in 1961 at the age of 12.

Within hours a string of police forces confirmed they were looking into the allegations against Heath, who is also being investigated by Scotland Yard, the BBC reported Tuesday.

Police in Kent, the county southeast of London, said they had received a report Tuesday of a sexual assault in the 1960s. "The victim has named Sir Edward Heath in connection with the allegation. Detectives are making initial inquiries and will obtain a full account from the victim," a spokesman said.

Police in Wiltshire, where Heath lived in his later years, said their officers had received "a number of calls" following appeals for information -- a mixture of "intelligence" and "third-party" calls.

Police on the Channel Island of Jersey also confirmed that Heath featured in Operation Whistle, their probe into alleged past abuse.

Heath, who led the Conservative party now headed by Prime Minister David Cameron, is not the first politician accused of abuse.

Others include the late Leon Brittan, interior minister under prime minister Margaret Thatcher and then a European commissioner; Cyril Smith, a Liberal MP who died in 2010; and Greville Janner, an ex-Labour MP and member of the House of Lords.

Last month it emerged that in 1986, the MI5 intelligence service had urged a cover-up of claims that an unidentified MP "has a penchant for small boys".

There are suggestions that children were abused at London's exclusive Dolphin Square apartment complex near parliament, popular with MPs.

Politicians make up just one element of the overall picture. A vast judge-led inquiry was opened last month into child sexual abuse at a whole range of British institutions from parliament to the BBC and from children's homes to churches.

It cited estimates that around one British child in every 20 has been sexually abused.

The number of abuse allegations being made has surged since one of the BBC's top presenters, Jimmy Savile, was exposed as a paedophile after his 2011 death.

Ex-PM had police minder

Heath rarely spoke about his private life despite years of media insinuations that he was gay at a time when any public declaration of homosexuality would have impeded a top-flight political career.

Friends of the former prime minister have leapt to his defence. Brian Binley, a Conservative ex-MP, told BBC radio he found the allegations hard to believe, describing Heath as "a very private person" with a "very controlled" personal life.

Robert Vaudry, Heath's former private secretary, told The Times newspaper that when he worked for him from 1988 to 1992, he had a constant police accompaniment, as do all former premiers.

"It feels like a cheap shot and the fact is that he cannot defend himself because he is deceased," Vaudry added.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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