London (CNN)At least four UK police forces are independently investigating claims that include child sexual abuse involving the late British Prime Minister Edward Heath.
The allegations about Heath, who led a Conservative government from 1970 to 1974 and only left Parliament in 2001, have dominated UK newspaper headlines this week.
They come at a time when Britain has been rocked by a series of revelations involving the sexual abuse of children by public figures — including UK entertainer Jimmy Savile — and allegations that the British establishment may have sought to cover up historic abuse claims involving some former senior politicians.
Heath, the most senior figure to be investigated for child sex abuse allegations dating back decades, died in 2005 at age 89.
Police forces in Kent, Wiltshire, Hampshire and Jersey, an island in the English Channel, have now confirmed they are looking into claims involving the former Prime Minister.
A UK police watchdog, the Independent Police Complaints Commission, is also examining how Wiltshire Police handled an alleged claim of child sex abuse made in the 1990s.
Wiltshire Police appealed Monday for any witnesses or victims who could support those allegations to come forward and confirmed that Heath “has been named in relation to offences concerning children.”
In a statement, Kent Police said it had received a report Tuesday of a sexual assault in East Kent in the 1960s. “The victim has named Sir Edward Heath in connection with the allegation,” the statement said. “Detectives are making initial inquiries, and will obtain a full account from the victim.”
The States of Jersey Police said: “Sir Edward Heath does feature as part of Operation Whistle, currently investigating historical allegations of abuse in Jersey.”
A Hampshire Constabulary spokeswoman also confirmed to CNN that the force is investigating allegations regarding Heath.
Met Police look into claims of organized abuse
In response to media inquiries about Heath, a fifth force, London’s Metropolitan Police, said it would not confirm any names in relation to its sex abuse investigations.
The force said speculation continued about its ongoing investigation into allegations of organized sexual abuse of young boys in and around London by a group of powerful men in the 1970s and ’80s — dubbed Operation Midland — but declined to name anyone involved.
“Operation Midland continues to be a complex and sensitive investigation, and the MPS will not be giving a running commentary on its progress,” a Met statement said. “This is important for the integrity of the investigation and protecting evidence that may form part of it.”
Former aide, charitable foundation doubt claims
At least one former colleague, Heath’s onetime private secretary Wilf Weeks, has spoken out against the suggestion that the man who ran the country was also a child sex abuser.
“Well I’m bemused and I’m sure he would have been even more bemused because I just don’t for a moment think that there is anything there,” he said.
The Sir Edward Heath Charitable Foundation said it welcomed the inquiry and wholeheartedly believed it would clear his name.
Such allegations ‘must be investigated’
In response to the latest developments, Peter Wanless, chief executive of UK children’s charity the NSPCC, said, “It’s important that people who believe they have been victims of abuse have the confidence to speak out knowing that their voices will be listened to.
“Whether abuse happened in the past, or is occurring today, whether those being accused are authority figures or not, allegations of crimes against children must be investigated thoroughly.”
A government investigation into Savile uncovered hundreds of victims that he allegedly raped and sexually abused across four decades, but the abuse came to light only after his death in October 2011.
Metropolitan Police launched Operation Yewtree in response to the slew of historic claims involving Savile and others.
This saw entertainers Rolf Harris and Gary Glitter convicted of sexual offenses dating back as much as four decades.