By Saul Cooke-Black

STROUD’S MP has accused police of leading a “witch hunt” against Sir Edward Heath after the former prime minister was accused of sexually abusing children.

Neil Carmichael, who knew Sir Edward personally, said he believed the allegations were “simply untrue” after eight police forces, including Gloucestershire Constabulary, confirmed they had received claims against the former Conservative leader, who died in 2005.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) is investigating the way Wiltshire Police handled an allegation against Sir Edward, who lived in Salisbury, in the 1990s.

On August 4 Wiltshire Police appealed for alleged victims or anyone with information to come forward.

Mr Carmichael said: “Commentators have not been impressed with such a blatant witch hunt and I do not believe this flawed exercise will succeed in finding evidence of any wrongdoing.

“This whole episode is an unnecessary distraction from the very serious task of preventing child sexual exploitation.

“In practical terms, it would have been impossible for him to have been able to pursue and hide any untoward behaviour. He was always surrounded by minders and special branch protection.

“The universal view among those who knew Sir Edward well is that such allegations are simply untrue.”

A Gloucestershire police spokesman said: “We can confirm we have received an allegation against Sir Edward Heath.

“The Constabulary has referred the allegation to Operation.

Hydrant officers and we will be liaising closely with them to decide the appropriate investigating authority.”

Thames Valley Police said it had “received information” in relation to Sir Edward which is being investigated.

Detectives in Kent, Jersey, Hampshire and London are also looking into abuse allegations linked to Sir Edward.

North Yorkshire Police is checking records for any mention of Sir Edward after a photograph emerged of him meeting Peter Jaconelli, a suspected paedophile.

The National Police Chiefs' Council has said a lead police force will be appointed to oversee police investigations involving Sir Edward.

The Sir Edward Heath Charitable Foundation said it believed investigations “will clear Sir Edward’s name”.

Sir Edward, who led the Conservative government between 1970 and 1974, died at home in Salisbury aged 89 in July 2005.