Sidney Charles Cooke
Sidney Charles Cooke
18 April 1927
|Other names||Hissing Sid|
|Occupation||Farm labourer, fairground worker|
|Criminal penalty||2 x life sentences|
|Location(s)||Hackney, East London and other parts of England|
|Killed||Jason Swift, Mark Tildesley, Barry Lewis|
|Weapons||Drugs, gang rape|
Sidney Cooke (born 18 April 1927) is an English convicted child molester and serial killer serving two life sentences. He was nicknamed Hissing Sid by colleagues, and described by The Guardian newspaper in 1999 as "Britain's most notorious paedophile".
After working as a farm labourer, Cooke found a job as a fairground worker by the 1960s, which allowed him to travel around the UK easily. As part of his system to lure in young boys, Cooke set up a child's version of the "Test Your Strength" amusement.
In the 1970s, Cooke and a group of paedophiles began hiring rent boys and taking young boys off the streets, who were then drugged, raped and abused in group orgies. By the mid-1980s, the group had acquired a flat on the Kingsmead estate in Hackney, East London.
Gang rape and murder of Jason Swift
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. After his 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 and Steven Barrell. Cooke was sentenced at the Old Bailey to 19 years in Wandsworth Prison on 12 May 1989 for the manslaughter of Swift.
Oliver received a lesser sentence of 15 years but was released from prison after eight years, 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.
Murder of Mark Tildesley
Bailey had informed authorities that Cooke was among those who murdered 7-year-old Mark Tildesley in Wokingham, Berkshire. Tildesley disappeared while visiting a funfair in Wokingham on the evening of 1 June 1984. Bailey said that Tildesley was lured away from the fair by Cooke for the promise of a 50p bag of sweets. His bicycle was found chained to railings nearby. Cooke's role in the murder was not investigated until 1999; by this time, Bailey was dead, having been murdered in prison in October 1993. In 1991, the Crown Prosecution Service declined to prosecute Cooke for Tildesley's murder as he was already in prison for the manslaughter of Swift. Cooke has indicated he knows where Tildesley's body is buried, but refuses to tell the police, or the boy's family, the exact location.
Appeal and parole
Cooke's sentence for the murder of Swift was reduced to 16 years on appeal in 1989, and he was paroled nine years later from Wandsworth Prison in April 1998. He told an appeals court that Bailey was the ringleader of the gang, who are believed to have killed at least nine victims. Cooke's parole caused huge public outrage. This was exacerbated by a plan to move him to a hostel near two schools, and Cooke himself admitted that he might re-offend if he was released. While in prison, he refused to take part in any rehabilitation sessions. Police refused to disclose the location to which he was to be moved, smuggling him out of prison to avoid a vigil for his victims. For the next 10 months Cooke lived in a suite of cells at Yeovil Police Station at his own request, rarely venturing out in public.
1970s offences, re-arrest
Following an investigation by the Channel 4 documentary programme Dispatches on 29 October 1998. Thames Valley Police began the reinvestigation of a series of rape and other serious sexual offences against young boys. On 26 January 1999, Cooke was arrested by Thames Valley Police. Three days later he was charged at Reading police station with committing 18 sex offences which occurred between 1972 and 1981 in Battersea and Stockwell in south London; Twyford, Berks; Canterbury, Kent; Washington, Tyne and Wear and Hatfield, Berkhamsted and Tring in Herts. He was moved back to prison on remand. These included repeated abuse and assault of two brothers and the rape of a young woman. Many of the offences had come to public attention after they were disclosed in the Channel 4 documentary.
At his trial at Manchester Crown Court on 5 October 1999, Cooke pleaded guilty to sexually abusing the two brothers on ten occasions in 1972 and 1973. He admitted to having carried out five counts of indecent assault and five counts of buggery committed between 1972 and 1978 but denied the remaining eight charges, which were four counts of rape, three further 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. 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.
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.
- "Police Operations". theneedleblog.
- Wansell, Geoffrey (2018). Pure Evil: Inside the Minds and Crimes of Britain’s Worst Criminals. Google Books: Penguin. ISBN 9781405936163. Retrieved 15 October 2019.
- "Cooke: The predatory paedophile". BBC News. 17 December 1999. Retrieved 3 October 2017.
- Kelso, Paul (6 October 1999). "Cooke admits years of child abuse". The Guardian.
- "Cooke: The predatory paedophile]". BBC News. 17 December 1999. Retrieved 30 January 2013.
- "Child killers change name to escape register". Archived from the original on 5 May 2003.
- "Fears over release of pedophile". BBC News. 13 March 1998.
- "Timeline: Sidney Cooke And Associates". 7 June 2015.
- "Jason Swift killer Robert Oliver jailed for child visits". BBC News. 12 July 2013. Retrieved 3 July 2019.
- "Child killer could face new charge". BBC News. 17 May 1998.
- "BBC News | UK | Paedophile 'moved again'". news.bbc.co.uk.
- "Paedophile admits to string of sex attacks". 6 October 1999. Archived from the original on 16 October 2008.
- "Outrage as child sex beast moves in near schools". 19 April 1998. Archived from the original on 3 November 2012.
- "Protesters force cops to move sex killer". 20 April 1998. Archived from the original on 6 September 2012.
- "Child killer moved ahead of vigil". BBC News. 6 April 1998.
- "Secret meeting on home for paedophile". BBC News. 22 April 1998.
- "BBC News | UK | Cooke: The predatory paedophile". news.bbc.co.uk.
- "Cooke in court on 14 charges". the Guardian. 30 January 1999.
- "Man in court on 14 sex charges". 21 April 1998. Archived from the original on 16 October 2008.
- "Paedophile admits child sex acts". BBC News. 5 October 1999.
- "Notorious paedophile begins life sentence". BBC News. 17 December 1999.