Born on 23rd August 1954 in Montgomeryshire, Wales, Leonard William Gilchrist Smith was taken into care after leaving school at fourteen and was, by then, already an active rent boy. Consistently absconding from various care homes, he was heavily involved in the gay scene in Oxford, Birmingham and London and accumulated convictions for burglary, theft and attempting to obtain goods by deception.
In London he operated at Victoria Station (where he first met Robert Oliver circa 1973) and the Piccadilly “meat rack” and lived for four years at an address on Eaton Place in Belgravia “with the son of a man who held a prestigious and historic parliamentary post, meeting him first as a client who enjoyed being tied up and whipped”.
Smith then moved to Westcliff, Southend, working as an amusement arcade assistant for an elderly homosexual called Jack Parsons, who was described as Smith’s “sugar daddy” and whom Smith referred to as his grandad. The amusement arcade was a cover for dealing in drugs, prostitution of boys and the picking up of boys. At the age of twenty three he was convicted for gross indecency.
In the early 1980’s Smith based himself in Birmingham, and served a year in prison for burglary, theft and criminal damage offences. Upon his release he returned to London, becoming the tenant of 70 Templemead on the Kingsmead Estate. Only 5ft 2″ in height and looking very young for his age Smith lasted longer than most as a rent boy. However, he also moved on from rent boy to pimp.
In 1984 Smith married a Bolivian student at Hackney Registry Office, having been paid £500 to do so, so the student could secure her residency. His address at this point was stated as 36 Ashmead, a flat which was also shared with Robert Oliver and Donald Smith who was the tenant. It was in this flat that Jason Swift was to meet his death a year later.
Operation Stranger was launched on 17th January 1986 and eventually resulted in convictions of the ‘Dirty Dozen’ gang and four convictions for the killing of Jason Swift. Under Operation Stranger, Smith was arrested in February 1986 and remanded into custody where he remained until his conviction and subsequent thirty month sentence in June 1987. In November 1985 Hackney police had raided 70 Templemead on the Kingsmead Estate after a tip off that a 13 year old was being abused there by Robert Oliver and Lennie Smith. The boy was hiding behind curtains and the police failed to find him.
Bizarrely, the man who made that anonymous call to Hackney police was Sidney Cooke himself.
Essex Police, picking up on this, went to interview the two about Jason Swift. The same 13 year old boy was later found by police in February 1986 and two of the first names he gave them were Sidney Cooke and Lennie Smith. The boy was introduced to Smith by another of the gang, Walter Ballantyne, who had first picked the boy up in September 1985. Smith was acting as a pimp for the gang, supplying boys to a regular group of customers at £5 per child. Some he kept for himself at first, before passing them on for money once he had tired of them. Some of his victims’ names he actually had tattoed on his body. The names of a father and son he had tried to cover up with a fresh tattoo of a black panther.
Released from Wandsworth Prison on 23rd October 1987 detectives were waiting and arrested him outside the prison gates. The following day Smith was charged with the murder of Jason Swift. Immediately remanded into custody again, Smith remained in custody until he was released at the committal stages in February 1988 when charges were dropped against him.
During the 1989 trial of Cooke, Bailey, Barrell and Oliver for the murder of Jason Swift, Bronwyn Bevan QC stated that Jason had become involved with Lennie Smith who then handed him to Sidney Cooke “because he feared the police were taking an unhealthy interest in him”. Smith had always denied knowing Jason but police had uncovered eight witnesses who said differently. Former rent boy Derek Crabbe said he had seen Jason about a dozen times in 36 Ashmead. A neighbour also recalled seeing Jason leaving Smith’s flat at 70 Templemead.
In May 1989, and immediately after the Jason Swift trial had drawn to a close, Smith was tracked down by reporters to a council flat at Savernake House in Stoke Newington where he was living with “a bloated, middle aged man who worked as a sub-editor on the Daily Telegraph”. The day following the verdict the Daily Mirror’s front page carried a photo of Smith with the headline “This Man is Evil”.
His name cropping up more than any other, the Orchid team had started to keep Smith under close surveillance and on 2nd May 1990 he was re-arrested trying to pick up a young boy in a toilet and received a three year prison sentence.
Whilst serving the three-year sentence for indecent assault Smith was interviewed with regards to other offences involving a six year old boy. On the day he was released in May 1991 Smith was immediately charged with offences in relation to this boy and remanded straight back into custody until his trial.
During the 1991 investigation into Smith in respect to his abuse of the boy he babysat, a friend of the boy’s family who had lived on the same estate was traced to Newcastle. He emerged as a useful witness but died several months later from AIDS, although not before making a statement to police on his deathbed, detailing homosexual activity on the Kingsmead estate, and also naming a gay priest, who was seen driving children to orgies there. Robert Oliver had also previously revealed that Smith had passed one boy – a 15 year old called “Michael” on to a gay priest friend of his who took the boy down to Brighton.
Though closely linked to the killing of seven-year-old Mark Tildesley and Barry Lewis, and named in court during the 1992 trial of Leslie Bailey, Smith was never charged.
The CPS decided that, whilst evidence existed, a prosecution against Lennie Smith (and Sidney Cooke) would fail because it relied too heavily on Bailey’s evidence and Bailey’s confession was not enough to prosecute Smith and Cooke. Leslie Bailey was the only one convicted in relation to Mark’s death.
Smith had always replied “No comment” when asked about Mark.
“That’s all he would say, with a very straight face,” according to former Detective Chief Superintendent Roger Stoodley, who brought the paedophile ring to justice. “He was very calm and very cunning.”
On 9th December 1992, Smith was sentenced to ten years imprisonment for a string of vicious sexual assaults eight years earlier against a six year old boy who he had been baby-sitting. It was reported that on one occasion the boy was taken by Smith to an illicit gay club in the West End. The boy told the court he had witnessed two men having sex.
“Lennie Smith is a danger to all young boys” said Detective Superintendent Mick Short. “He is truly evil“.
Released into a prison housing unit for former sex offenders in 1999, Smith died of AIDS in 2006. Updated 28th Sept 2016: Smith died on 22nd February 2006 at Fieldgate Nursing Home in Horndean, Hampshire. (thanks to Martin Walkerdine who discovered this)
Upon Smith’s release in 1999 former police chief superintendent Roger Stoodley, who brought Smith to justice, said:
“Wherever he goes children will die. He will always try and offend again. He does not deserve to have any freedom whatsoever”.
Sources include “Lambs to the Slaughter” by Ted Oliver and Ramsey Smith, “Catching Monsters” by David Bright, and press reports.