Sidney Cooke

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Sidney Charles Cooke
Born
Sidney Charles Cooke

(1927-04-18) 18 April 1927 (age 95)
Stroud, Gloucestershire, England, UK
NationalityBritish
Other namesHissing Sid
OccupationFarm labourer, fairground worker
MotivePedophilia
Criminal penalty2 x life sentences
Details
Date1960s–1980s
Location(s)Hackney, East London and other parts of England
Target(s)Young boys
KilledJason Swift, others suspected
WeaponsDrugs, gang rape

Sidney Charles Cooke (born 18 April 1927)[1] is an English convicted child molester and suspected serial killer serving two life sentences. He was the leader of a paedophile ring suspected of murdering up to twenty young boys in the 1970s and 1980s.[2] Cooke and other members of the ring were convicted of three killings in total, although he was only convicted of one himself.[2][3]

Cooke is suspected by police of killing the three boys with the ring; he was named by gang member Leslie Bailey as the killer of Mark Tildesley in 1984 when Bailey confessed to the murder, and he is also suspected to have been involved in the murder of 6-year-old Barry Lewis which Bailey was also convicted of.[2][4] Cooke's gang have also been the subject of several investigations into possible links to the disappearances of two boys, Martin Allen and Vishal Mehrotra, who were abducted from London in 1979 and 1981 respectively.

Cooke was nicknamed Hissing Sid by colleagues,[5] and was described by The Guardian newspaper in 1999 as "Britain's most notorious paedophile".[6]

Early life[edit]

Cooke was born on 18 April 1927 in Stroud, Gloucestershire. After working as a farm labourer, Cooke found a job as a fairground worker in the 1960s, which allowed him to travel around the United Kingdom easily.[4] As part of his system to lure young boys, Cooke set up a child's version of the high striker amusement.[4]

"Dirty Dozen"[edit]

In the 1970s, Cooke and a group of approximately twelve paedophiles began hiring rent boys and abducting young male children off the streets. The victims were drugged, raped and abused in group orgies.[4] By the mid-1980s, the group had acquired a flat on the Kingsmead housing estate in Hackney, East London.[4]

Gang rape and killing of Jason Swift[edit]

In November 1985, a group led by Cooke had each paid £5 to gang rape 14-year-old Jason Swift in what the media described as a homosexual orgy.[4][7] After Swift's body was found in a shallow grave by a dog walker, an investigation by the Metropolitan Police led to the arrest of Cooke along with three accomplices: Leslie Bailey, Robert Oliver[8] and Steven Barrell. On 12 May 1989, Cooke was sentenced at the Old Bailey to nineteen years in Wandsworth Prison for the manslaughter of Swift.[4] The group were originally charged with murder before all were convicted of manslaughter.[9]

Oliver received a lesser sentence of fifteen years, but was released from prison after eight and changed his name to Karl Curtis. In July 2013, he was jailed for three years after being found guilty of luring children into his home in Maidstone, Kent. This was due to the breach of a court order which banned him from having unsupervised contact with children.[10]

Murder of Mark Tildesley[edit]

Bailey and other gang members[11] told authorities that Cooke was among those who murdered Mark Tildesley, a seven-year-old boy, in Wokingham, Berkshire on 1 June 1984.[4] Bailey claimed that Tildesley was lured away from a Wokingham funfair by Cooke on the promise of a 50p bag of sweets.[4] In 1991, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) declined to prosecute Cooke for Tildesley's murder as he was already in prison for the manslaughter of Swift. As Bailey was the only one who confessed to Tildesley's murder, the CPS decided to only formally press charges against him for the killing despite him[4] and other gang members[11] naming Cooke as the perpetrator, as fellow paedophiles are not considered reliable witnesses in a court of law.[3] Despite this, Bailey's trial was highly unusual in that it explicitly named Cooke and another man, Lennie Smith, as the killers, despite them having not been charged.[3] Cooke's role in the murder was not fully investigated until 1999, after Cooke's release from prison; by this time, Bailey had been murdered in prison in October 1993.[12] Cooke has indicated he knows where Tildesley's body is buried but refuses to disclose the exact location.[4]

Murder of Barry Lewis[edit]

Cooke is also suspected[13][14] of involvement in the murder of another boy, six-year-old Barry Lewis, for which Bailey was convicted in June 1991.[15] Lewis had been snatched from the street while playing with friends in Walworth, South London, on 15 September 1985.[16][17] His body was found in Essex in April 1986, only four days from the discovery of Swift’s body.[17]

In 1990, Bailey confessed to police that Cooke's gang had abducted, drugged and raped Lewis before Bailey had been tasked with disposing of the body the next day.[16] Bailey told police detailed information about the murder which confirmed his testimony as genuine, and led police to the location of Lewis's grave.[3][18] As with Tildesley, Bailey implicated Cooke in Lewis's murder.[19] Although he was the only one convicted in the murders of Lewis and Tildesley,[3] police believed Cooke was the leader of the gang.[3]

Operation Orchid[edit]

While in prison, Cooke reportedly boasted of his ring killing "about fifteen" children to cellmates.[3] Members of the ring also reportedly made references to killing Lewis, whose murder was at this point still unsolved but which detectives on the Swift enquiry were already aware of.[3] One prisoner, Ian Gabb, felt so disgusted by the confessions that he volunteered to give information to the authorities.[3] Police set up Operation Orchid to further investigate murders that could be linked to the ring.[3]

Gabb informed police that a ring member named Lennie Smith had been involved in the group's murders along with Cooke.[3] Police subsequently put Smith under surveillance, and he was soon arrested for indecent assault on a child in a public toilet.[3] Gabb also provided detectives with maps he had drawn based on the descriptions of where the ring members claimed they had buried their victims, to which police responded by searching several sites of interest.[3] Operation Orchid officers eventually solved the then unsolved murders of Tildesley and Lewis after Bailey formally confessed.[3] Gabb volunteered to remain in prison longer than his own sentence to continue assisting the police, and was later rewarded by being given a reduced sentence.[3][20]

Appeal and parole[edit]

Cooke's sentence for the manslaughter of Swift was reduced to sixteen years on appeal in 1989, and he was paroled nine years later in April 1998.[21] He told an appeals court that Bailey was the ringleader of the gang.[22] Cooke's parole caused huge public outrage, which was exacerbated by a plan to move him to a hostel near two schools[23][24] and the fact that Cooke himself admitted that he might re-offend if he was released. While in prison, Cooke refused to take part in any rehabilitation sessions.[25] Police refused to disclose the location to which he was to be moved,[26] smuggling him out of prison to avoid a vigil for his victims.[25] For the next nine months, Cooke lived in a suite of cells at Yeovil police station at his own request, rarely venturing out in public.[4]

1970s offences, re-arrest[edit]

Following an investigation by the Channel 4 documentary programme Dispatches on 29 October 1998,[4] Thames Valley Police reopened investigations concerning alleged sex offences by Cooke.[4] He was arrested on 26 January 1999. Three days later, Cooke was charged at Reading police station with committing eighteen sex offences which occurred between 1972 and 1981 in South London, Berkshire, Kent, Tyne and Wear and Hertfordshire; he was moved back to prison on remand.[27][4] Many of the offences had come to public attention after they were disclosed in the Channel 4 documentary.[28][29]

At his trial at Manchester Crown Court on 5 October 1999, Cooke pleaded guilty to all but eight of the charges, which were four counts of rape, three counts of indecent assault, and one of buggery that occurred in 1981. These were abandoned by the judge, who ordered them to lie on file.[29] Following Cooke's sentencing, NSPCC director Jim Harding said:

The children who were abused by Sidney Cooke suffered some of the vilest and cruelest sex offences imaginable. He should never have been freed after serving his last sentence. We sincerely hope he will never be given the opportunity to hurt another child again.[4]

On 17 December 1999, at Wolverhampton Crown Court, Cooke received two life sentences, and Judge David Poole told Cooke that he would only be considered for release after he had served a minimum of five years in prison and if the parole board was satisfied he was not a danger to the public.[30]

Aftermath[edit]

Since his five year minimum prison sentence expired in January 2004, Cooke has been turned down for parole ten separate times.[11] He was denied parole most recently in October 2021, aged 94, on the grounds that his behaviour whilst imprisoned "had been mixed and had provoked concerns and even allegations over the years".[11]

Investigations into other possible victims[edit]

Roger Stoodley, who retired as the detective leading the Cooke investigation in 1992, stated in 2014 that the unsolved disappearances and murders of two other boys, Vishal Mehrotra and Martin Allen, were in keeping with the Cooke gang's modus operandi.[2] The gang were known to have abducted boys who they found walking on their own.[2] Allen was last seen at King's Cross railway station in 1979, and was thought to have later been sighted at Gloucester Road tube station seemingly being held captive by an older man.[31] Mehrotra disappeared from the street in Putney in July 1981, and his body was found in a shallow grave in Rogate, West Sussex, in February 1982.[32]

Cooke's ring allegedly had links to Elm Guest House, a place where repeated sexual abuse had taken place and which was less than a mile away from the site of Mehrotra's disappearance in 1981.[33] A few months after Mehrotra disappeared, his father received a call from a man stating his abduction may be connected to a group of "high-profile" paedophiles at Elm Guest House.[33] Police also knew that Cooke's gang had boasted of killing an "Asian boy", and in 2015 police investigated whether this could have been Mehrotra.[34] In 2005, Sussex Police carried out a review of Mehrotra's case and in 2015 revealed that on three occasions other police forces had looked at whether there was a connection to Cooke's gang. The Metropolitan Police's paedophile unit said there were "strong similarities" between Mehrotra's case and the gang's known murders.[34]

Documentaries[edit]

Cooke and his paedophile ring were the subject of two Crimewatch File documentaries titled "The Lost Boys", which were shown on 4 October and 11 October 1994 respectively.[3] The first documentary focused on the conviction of Cooke and the ring for the killing of Jason Swift, while the second focused on the continuing investigations into the ring's role in the murders of Mark Tildesley and Barry Lewis and Bailey's conviction for them.[3]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Wansell, Geoffrey (2018). Pure Evil: Inside the Minds and Crimes of Britain's Worst Criminals. Google Books: Penguin. ISBN 9781405936163. Retrieved 15 October 2019.
  2. ^ a b c d e "Paedophile gang 'may have killed 17 more children'". The Times. 20 November 2014. Retrieved 17 January 2022.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q Crimewatch File (11 August 1994). The Lost Boys: Part 2. Crimewatch. BBC.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p "Cooke: The predatory paedophile]". BBC News. 17 December 1999. Retrieved 30 January 2013.
  5. ^ "Cooke: The predatory paedophile". BBC News. 17 December 1999. Retrieved 3 October 2017.
  6. ^ Kelso, Paul (6 October 1999). "Cooke admits years of child abuse". The Guardian.
  7. ^ Hardy, James (9 March 1997). "Child killers change name to escape register". Daily Telegraph. Archived from the original on 5 May 2003. Retrieved 5 August 2021.
  8. ^ "Fears over release of pedophile". BBC News. 13 March 1998.
  9. ^ "Fears over release of paedophiles". BBC News. 13 March 1999. Retrieved 18 January 2022.
  10. ^ "Jason Swift killer Robert Oliver jailed for child visits". BBC News. 12 July 2013. Retrieved 3 July 2019.
  11. ^ a b c d "Sidney Cooke: Notorious paedophile denied parole for 10th time". BBC News. 28 October 2021. Retrieved 6 November 2021.
  12. ^ "Child killer could face new charge". BBC News. 17 May 1998.
  13. ^ "Paedophile and child killer Sidney Cooke fails again in bid to be freed". Belfast Telegraph. 28 October 2021. Retrieved 17 January 2022.
  14. ^ "Paedophile and child killer Sidney Cooke fails again in bid to be freed". Evening Standard. 28 October 2021. Retrieved 17 January 2022.
  15. ^ "Paedophile gets life for killing boy, 7, at orgy: Homosexual ring abducted children and drugged them for group sex". The Independent. 23 October 1992. Retrieved 17 January 2022.
  16. ^ a b "Paedophile serving life for murder found strangled in cell". The Guardian. 9 October 1993.
  17. ^ a b Crimewatch UK: January 1986 (Television appeal). Crimewatch (BBC). January 1986. Retrieved 18 January 2022.
  18. ^ "Snatched boy killed after orgy". The Guardian. 15 June 1991.
  19. ^ "Paedophile killer gets police asylum". BBC News. 6 April 1999. Retrieved 18 January 2022.
  20. ^ "Judge's 'discount' for sex informant". The Independent. 1 July 1992. Retrieved 18 January 2022.
  21. ^ "Paedophile 'moved again'". BBC. 19 April 1998. Retrieved 12 December 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  22. ^ "Paedophile admits to string of sex attacks". The Independent. 6 October 1999. Archived from the original on 16 October 2008.
  23. ^ Qualtrough, Stuart (19 April 1998). "Outrage as child sex beast moves in near schools". The People. Archived from the original on 3 November 2012.
  24. ^ Young, Sydney (20 April 1998). "Protesters force cops to move sex killer". The Mirror. Archived from the original on 6 September 2012.
  25. ^ a b "Child killer moved ahead of vigil". BBC News. 6 April 1998.
  26. ^ "Secret meeting on home for paedophile". BBC News. 22 April 1998.
  27. ^ Wilson, Jamie (30 January 1999). "Cooke in court on 14 charges". The Guardian.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  28. ^ "Man in court on 14 sex charges". 21 April 1998. Archived from the original on 16 October 2008.
  29. ^ a b "Paedophile admits child sex acts". BBC News. 5 October 1999.
  30. ^ "Notorious paedophile begins life sentence". BBC News. 17 December 1999.
  31. ^ "Parents make 1979 abduction plea". BBC News. 18 January 2022. Retrieved 23 December 2009.
  32. ^ "'Royal wedding day' murder re-examined". BBC News. 4 March 2000. Retrieved 18 January 2022.
  33. ^ a b "Paedophile ring allegations: police are failing us, murdered boy's father says". The Guardian. 19 November 2014. Retrieved 18 January 2022.
  34. ^ a b "Vishal Mehrotra: father wants son's murder case reopened". Channel 4 News. 4 June 2015. Retrieved 18 January 2022.

External links[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Bright, David (2003). Catching Monsters: The True Story of One Man's Battle Against the Most Evil Men in Britain. London: John Blake. ISBN 9781904034803.
  • Oliver, Ted; Smith, Ramsay (March 1993). Lambs to the Slaughter: A Web of Evil to Rival the Moors Murders. Sphere. ISBN 9780751503371.