THE Chief Constable of Wiltshire Police has defended the decision to investigate child sex abuse allegations against a former prime minister, saying the public interest was “clear and unequivocal”.

Speaking at Gablecross police station in Swindon, Mike Veale said he knew there would be “intense scrutiny” but maintained that launching Operation Conifer was “the right moral, ethical and professional thing to do”.

In response to widespread criticism throughout the two-year investigation, CC Veale said he recognised the operation had “the potential to damage confidence in Wiltshire Police”, which he said he was proud of for its “commendable and strong reputation”.

He said he believed the damage would be caused by “the views held by some” about investigating allegations against “deceased individuals”.

CC Veale said it was “only right” that “the people like me who make these decisions” should be “held to account” and said the public “should be able to judge” the leadership of high profile operations.

He acknowledged that some would have negative views of the cost of the operation, today revealed to be just under £1.5 million, “in a time of budget cuts”.

He revealed that, in total, 24 people have worked on Operation Conifer and said the decision of Home Secretary Amber Rudd to approve Home Office funding of £1.1 million towards the inquiry “underlines the Prime Minister’s personal commitment to addressing issues of child sexual abuse”.

“Mindful of this”, he said, “I have ensured this investigation has been conducted fairly, objectively, with respect and without fear or favour.”

He said Wiltshire Police have “gone where the evidence has taken us, whether it supports or negates the allegations”.

CC Veale also stressed his “complete confidence” in the investigation team and said there had at no stage been “any deviation” from current advice, guidance or legislation.

“I am satisfied that there were compelling and obvious reasons to investigate allegations made about Sir Edward Heath,” he said.

CC Veale made clear that the report did not set out to determine if Sir Edward was guilty of the crimes and said there would be no judge-led review of the allegations.

“It is my view that the suggestion that a retired judge or other judicial appointment could legitimately pronounce the guilt or innocence of Sir Edward Heath is ill-conceived”, he said, adding it would not provide “value for money” or a “legitimate outcome”.

He said Sir Edward was “an extremely prominent, influential and high-profile person” and “arguably one of the most powerful people in the world” because of his role as the prime minister.

But CC Veale said the allegations made against him were “of the utmost seriousness, and from a significant number of people”.

He said it would be “an indefensible dereliction of my public duty as a chief constable not to have investigated such serious allegations against a former prime minister, even though he is deceased”.

And he said all alleged victims of abuse “must have trust and confidence in the police” that they will be listened to, taken seriously, supported and protected, adding that Wiltshire Police will do “all that it is able” to keep the alleged victims anonymous.

“I understand there is an insatiable appetite by some to identify the victims,” he said. “I will do everything in my power to prevent this from happening.”

CC Veale said he wanted to send “a specific message to those who have come forward”, and said he knew it took “bravery and courage”, adding: “I hope that you feel we have listened to you, taken you seriously, and you have been treated with dignity and respect.”

“People who are victims of abuse in the past, now or in the future, should be reassured. We will investigate, no matter how difficult that may be.”