Former British Prime Minister Edward Heath has been accused of sexually assaulting a 12-year-old boy whom he had picked up while the youngster was hitchhiking, a published report revealed Tuesday.
The claim, which was first published in the Daily Mirror newspaper, was made public one day after Britain's police watchdog said it would investigate claims that authorities failed to pursue an allegation of child sexual abuse against Heath in the 1990s. A public inquiry in Britain is investigating whether police and other authorities covered up sexual abuse by powerful people over several decades.
The new allegation against Heath dates back to 1961, when Heath was a Member of Parliament for the Conservative Party. The alleged victim, now 64, says he was hitchhiking to London from his home in the suburban county of Kent when a car pulled over and picked him up. In the car, the youth struck up a conversation with a man he later identified as Heath. The future Prime Minister allegedly invited the boy to spend the night at his apartment in the well-heeled London neighborhood of Mayfair.
"I was grateful and accepted but knew that he hadn’t asked out of generosity and that I would have to pay, probably with my body but it didn’t bother me, as I had been using my body for over five years now and it was almost second nature," the Mirror quotes the alleged victim as telling his attorney in a letter.
The man claimed that he reported the alleged abuse two months after it happened, but was ignored by social workers. He did not recognize Heath as the man who had picked him up until four years later, when he saw the then-Conservative Party leader's picture in a newspaper.
The Mirror reported Tuesday that detectives from Scotland Yard's sexual exploitation unit plan to interview the alleged victim.
According to the Mirror, Heath's accuser previously had been sexually abused by his father and family friends, worked as a male prostitute during his adolescence, and was later convicted himself of sexually abusing children. The Daily Mail reported that the latest inquiry was launched after a retired police officer claimed that a criminal trial in the 1990s was shut down by prosecutors to protect Heath. It is not clear if the derailed trial concerned Heath's alleged victim.
The Independent Police Complaints Commission said Monday it had received an allegation "that a criminal prosecution was not pursued, when a person threatened to expose that Sir Edward Heath may have been involved in offenses concerning children."
Heath served as Prime Minister between 1970 and 1974. A year later, he was defeated in a leadership election by Margaret Thatcher, but served in Parliament until 2001, a 51-year political career. Heath was a lifelong bachelor and whispers about his sexuality regularly made the rounds in London's corridors of power. However, he had never before been publicly accused of pedophilia.
A dam of official silence around child abuse in Britain began to break after the 2011 death of entertainer Jimmy Savile, when dozens came forward to say he had abused them. Subsequent revelations have implicated other entertainers, as well as clergy and senior politicians.
New Zealand judge Lowell Goddard, who is leading the public inquiry, said last month that Britain had been stunned by revelations about child sexual abuse, and warned that the true scale of the crime has long been underestimated.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.