Friday, 17 December, 1999
Cooke: The predatory paedophile
Sidney Cooke has committed horrific offences
Sidney Cooke is regarded as a dangerous and predatory paedophile who even at the age of 72 remains a constant threat to youngsters.
He has been given two life sentences for a catalogue of crimes involving the systematic rape and abuse of two brothers over several years.
But these horrific admissions are just one of a series of depraved acts the persistent offender has committed during the past three decades.
In his job as a fairground worker, Cooke was able to travel the country preying on vulnerable youngsters.
Known by colleagues as Hissing Sid, he set up his children's 'Test Your Strength' machine at fairgrounds around the country using the opportunity to meet boys and lure them into depraved homosexual orgies.
With his sick friends Robert Oliver, Lennie Smith and Leslie Bailey, he would drug the children before subjecting them to brutal assaults.
Cooke, who habitually dressed in a filthy suit and trilby hat, was one of a 1980s gang suspected of being responsible for the killing of up to nine young boys during sex orgies.
Operating from a flat on the Kingsmead estate in Hackney, east London, the gang hired rent boys or snatched children off the streets and subjected them to horrific sexual torture.
"I can't think of anything worse that could happen to a human being and a vulnerable young man
Detective Superintendent David Bright
The former farm worker led the paedophile ring jailed for killing 14-year-old Jason Swift from Hackney, East London, in 1984.
A gang of men each paid £5 to have sex with Jason in the "stinking, filthy" flat they used on the Kingsmead.
A few hours later he was dead. His body was found in a shallow grave on the outskirts of London.
Detective Superintendent David Bright, who was involved in the hunt for the killers of the teenager, said: "I can't think of anything worse that could happen to a human being and a vulnerable young man.
"Cooke is a very hard and resilient man. He's a very strong character but he's an evil man."
Cooke was sent to prison for 19 years in 1989 for Jason's manslaughter but later managed to get his sentence reduced to 16 years by appeal court judges and was released after just nine in 1998.
He convinced the judges that Leslie Bailey was the evil genius and the mastermind behind the gang.
Cooke, however, was named by Bailey as one of the killers of seven-year-old Mark Tildesley, who vanished in June 1984.
Mark disappeared after visiting a funfair near his home in Wokingham, Berks.
His bicycle was recovered nearby but no trace of him has ever been found. Police believe he was lured away from the fair by Cooke for the promise of a 50p bag of sweets before being tortured and killed by Cooke's gang in a caravan.
Cooke has indicated he knows where Mark's body is buried but refuses to tell police or the boy's grieving parents exactly where his grave is.
The children who were abused by Sidney Cooke suffered some of the vilest and cruellest sex offences imaginable
NSPCC director Jim Harding
In 1991 the Crown Prosecution Service declined to prosecute Cooke for Mark's murder.
During his time in London's Wandsworth prison Cooke was admired by other paedophiles for the extent of his depravity and the lengths he was prepared to go to ensnare his victims.
Angry protests had greeted his release from prison last year and he was forced to keep on the move as soon as his identity was discovered.
He eventually lived, at his own request, in a suite of three cells at Yeovil police station in Somerset where the Home Office provided him with a TV, washing machine, microwave and small cooker.
Nearly a year after his release, Cooke was arrested at the police station by Thames Valley Police detectives investigating allegations of rape and other serious sexual offences which had come to light after the Channel 4 documentary, Dispatches.
Following his sentencing, NSPCC director Jim Harding said of the sentence: "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."