The second of our posts on Police Operations features Operation Orchid.
Operation Stranger had resulted in the trial and conviction of four men; Sidney Cooke, Stephen Barrell, Robert Oliver and Leslie Bailey for the killing of Jason Swift.
Operation Orchid, which followed in August 1989, was connected to the Jason Swift murder in that no one had yet been brought to justice for the murders of other missing boys, including Barry Lewis and Mark Tildesley. Police believed these cases were all connected, and that the killers were likely to be the same men. Operation Orchid eventually resulted in the conviction of Leslie Bailey for the killing of both Barry Lewis and Mark Tildesley.
Operation Orchid (August 1989 – October 1992) investigated the disappearance of boys during the 1980’s. It was instigated after Leslie Bailey’s cell mate, Ian Gabb, told the police about Bailey’s further confessions in prison.
Operation Orchid was led by Detective Chief Superintendent Roger Stoodley and Detective Chief Inspector David Easy. The Police team initially included DI Bob Brown (from the Alan Brent and Jason killers inquiries), and many of his original colleagues. When Bob Brown later moved, he was replaced by D.S Richard Langley, who continued to develop the rapport with Gabb. One name that repeatedly came up was that of Lennie Smith.
Lennie Smith had been strongly implicated in the Jason Swift murder. However, at the time, charges were dropped against him. The Orchid team started to keep him under close surveillance.
He was eventually arrested at a public toilet, where he had indecently assaulted a child, and was sentenced to three years.
Ian Gabb had become a key contributor to the ‘Operation Orchid’ team in that he was placed as a cell-mate with three of Jason Swift’s killers. He had offered to help the police because he was revolted by their crimes, and he asked for no special favours in return. In fact, he even offered to prolong his stay in prison in order to gain more information. Firstly, he shared a cell with Bailey, then Oliver, and finally with Cooke.
After he shared a cell with Sydney Cooke, he wrote to the police:
“Dear Richard, I moved in with Sidney Cooke yesterday afternoon. Please God, don’t ever let this man walk our streets again. He continually talks about sex with children. Its really sickening. I can tell you that there are probably 25 to 30 dead children buried out there. Cooke has already admitted to me that he’s seen about 15 killed. He boasts of this figure. All that I write is the truth. The only part that is missing is the creeping feeling of evil I get while listening to Cooke tell me of these events. I cannot relate the fear I feel for children everywhere that I feel while this man Cooke laughs and squeals in delight as he tells me of the things he has done and the things he intends to do in the future.”
Gabb’s information was very detailed and included maps drawn by Bailey of where some of the bodies were buried.
In 1990, 28th May, the police publicly started a search for the bodies of four boys in a car park adjacent to Clapton synagogue. Although no bodies were found, it was later reported that the police found evidence that a body had been there, but then moved to another location.
In July, 1990,Scotland Yard disclosed that detectives were investigating the disappearance of boys over a six-year period, as well as deaths during the making of films in London dating back to 1984.
That same month in 1990, Leslie Bailey confessed to his involvement in the death in 1985 of Barry Lewis, aged 6, and he was charged with his murder.
Bailey was convicted in June 1991 for killing of Barry Lewis aged 6 yrs
He was sentenced to life imprisonment for Barry’s murder on June 14, 1991. He was already serving 15 years for his part in the death of Jason Swift, who was killed in the same flat.
At the time, Detective Chief Superintendent Roger Stoodley, who led Operation Orchid, said four other men were questioned in the Barry Lewis inquiry. He spoke of two paedophile rings in east London and Kent, and said on television: “My information at the moment is that nine boys have been murdered in cases of child sex abuse.”
When Bailey was also questioned about Mark Tildesley, the 7 year old who disappeared whilst visiting a fair in Wokingham, he admitted his involvement, and was charged with his murder.
Police were confident that both Cooke and Smith were deeply implicated in both the murders of Barry Lewis and Mark Tildesley and that they would be able to press charges against them.
Ironically, however, the confessions from Bailey had led to appeals by the other three who were convicted at the Jason Swift murder trial.
The appeal judge took the view that Leslie Baily was the ringleader, and therefore reduced the sentences for Cooke from 19 years to 16 years, and for Barrell from 13.5 years to 10 years. Oliver (who had changed his name to Cooke) has his appeal dismissed.
The Police, who had been expecting both Cooke and Lennie Smith to be prosecuted, were disappointed when the Crown Prosecution Service announced: “There have been suspects considered where we have decided there is insufficient evidence.”
Only Leslie Bailey stood trial in 1992 for the murder of Mark Tildesley.
John Nutting, for the prosecution, unusually, named others who had not been charged with the murder, and gave the court a harrowing account of Mark’s last hours:
“On June 30, 1984, he had asked his father for permission to visit the fair. That day Bailey and his lover, Lennie Smith, had driven from London to Wokingham to visit a friend who had a caravan parked close to the fairground. The journey was a prelude to Bailey’s induction to the paeodophile ring, Mr Nutting said. Once at the fairground, Smith left Bailey to find his friend, Sidney Cooke. Some minutes later he returned with Cooke, who was holding a small boy by the hand. The child appeared to be dragging back and unwilling to be led, Mr Nutting said. The men took Mark to Cooke’s caravan where the child was forced to drink drugged milk and then subjected to multiple rape.
Smith and Bailey held Mark as each assaulted him. Bailey began to panic when the boy showed no sign of life but Cooke reassured the men by saying he would take him home.”
(A later press report from 1998 suggested that there was a fourth man, “Oddbod”, present).
Bailey was convicted 23rd October 1992 for the manslaughter and buggery of Mark Tildesley, aged 7 yrs
After the trial, Detective Supt Mick Short, the Thames Valley officer who led the inquiry, said papers on two men had been sent to the director of public prosecutions a year ago,and he had believed there was ample evidence to put those people before the court.
Mick Short added: “As far as Leslie Bailey is concerned, I don’t believe that he is the most wicked of the people that killed mark, in fact in many respects he was the least guilty. The other men I believe are evil, and I am certain they will come out of prison. And when they come out I am convinced they will kill again”.
That same month, October 1992, Operation Orchid, was wound down, and lawyers from the Crown Prosecution Service decided there should be no further action against anyone for the murder of Mark Tildesley, 7, or the deaths of Barry Lewis, 6, and Jason Swift, 14.
Det Chief Supt Roger Stoodley, who led the operation retired earlier that month.
Subsequently, he said on BBC Crimewatch programme;
“Young boys were being carried out of flats on the Kingsmeade estate in Hackney, with anybody apparently noticing, or phoning the police, or in any way caring about what had occurred”.
“Its a very worrying situation”.
Operation Orchid resulted in Leslie Bailey’s conviction for the murders of both Mark Tildesley, 7, and Barry Lewis, 6. Lennie Smith was convicted for three years for indecent assault on a child.
Despite being implicated, neither Cooke nor Smith were convicted for involvement in the two young boy’s murders.
Leslie Bailey was strangled in his cell in Whitemore Prison on 7th October 1993. Two inmates were charged with his murder.
Lennie Smith was sentenced to 10 years in 1992 for the buggery of a 6-year old boy. He died of aids in 2006.
Sidney Cooke was released from prison in April 1998. In January 1999, Cooke, 72, was re-arrested and was given two life sentences at Wolverhampton Crown Court for a series of sexual assaults on two young brothers committed more than two decades ago.