THE chief constable who oversaw the controversial Wiltshire Police child abuse inquiry into former Conservative prime minister Sir Edward Heath has been chosen as the preferred candidate to become the new chief of Cleveland Police.

The announcement was made just three months after Mike Veale, who held the top job in Wiltshire since 2015, had to defend the handling of the two-year £1.5m Operation Conifer inquiry into Sir Edward.

The report concluded that Sir Edward, who died in 2005 aged 89, would have been questioned under caution over allegations that he raped and indecently assaulted boys as young as ten were he alive today.

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Cleveland police and crime commissioner Barry Coppinger said Mr Veale’s appointment would have to be confirmed by the force’s police and crime panel which meets on January 23.

“Mike has enjoyed a distinguished policing career with extensive experience as a chief police officer including several years in the rank of chief constable,” Mr Coppinger said.

“He has faced extremely difficult and complex policing challenges and has never shied away from taking tough decisions in the best interests of justice.

“In interview Mike put forward an exciting and compelling vision for the future of policing in Cleveland and how he would work with public and partners to deliver this vision.”

Mr Veale began his career as a police cadet before joining Avon and Somerset Police as a constable in 1984.

He joined Wiltshire Police in 2005 as a detective superintendent and later became head of CID. Mr Veale became deputy chief constable in 2013 and chief constable two years later.

Mr Veale said: “It has been a very difficult decision to make, after serving here in Wiltshire for 13 years and the wider West Country for almost 34 years. However, I feel it is the right time for a new challenge and it is for that reason that I plan to make this move. I would like to publicly thank my officers and staff for their unwavering support for me during my tenure.”

Wiltshire police and crime commissioner Angus Macpherson added: “I would like to state publicly that I thank Mike Veale tremendously for his unwavering commitment and dedication to this force.”