8th Apr 1961 Sidney Cooke is fined £20 for indecently assaulting a boy in a cinema. Until convicted in 1987 for the “dirty dozen” offences this was Cooke’s only conviction for a sexual offence.
1973 Leslie Bailey is accused of the attempted murder and indecent assault of a seven year old girl but confusion over the admissability of evidence meant the charge was reduced to possessing a knife. Bailey was given probation for possessing an offensive weapon and spent three months in a mental hospital in Kent after the incident.
1977 Lennie Smith is convicted for an offence of gross indecency and serves a year in prison.
1977 Robert Oliver receives a four year prison sentence for gross indecency offences.
29th Mar 1979 Leslie Bailey’s trial for burgling a post office near his home in Brooke Road, Stoke Newington, is adjourned until today. Bailey told police he had been out job hunting when he stopped to admire a Rolls outside Harrods. An Arab in flowing robes hurried towards the car and stepped from the pavement into the path of a taxi. “I grabbed him to stop him being run down and pulled him back to safety”. The Arab, wished him a thousand thanks, and took him to the Rolls where he opened a briefcase and handed over bundles of £20 notes. Then the car sped away. The outcome of the trial and date the offence was committed is unknown.
10th Dec 1979 Leslie Bailey is jailed for five years for a serious sexual assault on a woman. On 1st March 1978 the young woman was returning to her flat at the Barbican one night when Bailey – who worked as a security guard on a building site at the Barbican at the time – assaulted her at knifepoint. Bailey was arrested for the offence on 28th June 1978. As a report was submitted by a Prison Governor at Bailey’s trial it is highly probable that Bailey was remanded into prison custody after being charged for the offence. Virtually illiterate, it was revealed at the trial that Bailey had an IQ of 67.
Bailey appealed against his conviction, however his appeal was dismissed on 25th November 1980
1981 Robert Oliver receives a one year prison sentence for a sexual offence.
Early 1980’s Lennie Smith bases himself in Birmingham, and serves a year in prison for burglary, theft and criminal damage offences.
1st June 1984 Mark Tildesley, aged 7, is abducted from the Frank Ayers’ fairground in Wokingham, Berkshire. Leslie Bailey was later to claim that Lennie Smith strangled the boy and Sidney Cooke disposed of the body. Mark’s body has never been found. Known to be present were Cooke, Bailey, Lennie Smith and a relative of Bailey known as “Oddbod”.
7th June 1984 Mark Tildesley’s disappearance was mentioned on the first ever episode of BBC Crimewatch.
7th June 1984 Following two tip offs naming a “strange man”, fairground worker Martin Earley is questioned about Mark’s disappearance. Earley confessed and retracted his confession several times, continually changed his story and was also unable to even describe Mark then finally denied that he had ever seen him. Sent to a psychiatric unit for observation and later released, Earley was tracked by a surveillance team but did nothing to re-arouse suspicion. Forensic scientists examined Earley’s caravan but found nothing. Earley returned to work at the fair. In 1993 Earley and two other fairground workers were convicted of the 1992 buggery of another 17 year old fairground worker.
June 1984 Jason Swift makes a formal complaint to police that he has been sexually assaulted by a “well-to-do” film editor. The man was arrested but Jason later withdrew the complaint without offering a reason. Speaking to this man again after Jason’s death, police were pointed towards London’s West End.
6th July 1984 Leslie Bailey is fined £30 for handling a stolen insurance certificate, an offence for which he had been arrested on 1st June, the night Mark Tildesley disappeared.
16th Aug 1984 Following a call from a fairground worker police visit Sidney Cooke but, as a result of an alibi given by a fair owner Rosie Gray, Cooke remained on file but was eliminated as a suspect.
13th June 1985 Mark Tildesley’s disappearance is featured again on BBC Crimewatch, including a full reconstruction of his last movements. This brought a huge public response, of 1,200 calls and 2,500 potential leads, but little concrete evidence emerged.
6th July 1985 Jason Swift, aged 14, is reported missing by his sister. Jason had been living with her at 28A Edwy House on the Kingsmead estate.
15th Sept 1985 Barry Lewis, aged 6, is abducted from Walworth in South London.
Nov 1985 Hackney police raid 70 Templemead (Lennie Smith’s flat) on the Kingsmead Estate after a tip off (by Sidney Cooke) that a 13 year old was being abused there by Robert Oliver and Lennie Smith
30th Nov 1985 Jason Swift’s body is discovered by a farm worker in Stapleford Tawney, Essex. It was thought that Jason was probably killed on 27th November 1985 and asphyxia was the cause of death, probably as a result of suffocation.
2nd Dec 1985 After trying to entice a 13 year old boy into his blue Jaguar car on this date, Sidney Cooke (living on the Sherrers Wharf estate in Hackney at the time) is arrested a week later. He was released on bail to appear at Hackney Police Station on 8th January. Though his file was sent to the CPS he was never charged in connection with this incident. Questioned too about Jason Swift, Cooke’s home is searched and his car examined, but it was decided not to send the vehicle away for further tests.
5th Dec 1985 Barry Lewis’ body is discovered by a farmer in an Essex field known as Monkham’s Park (10 miles from where Jason’s body was found) The cause of death was given as probably asphyxia.
31st Dec 1985 Sidney Cooke makes an anonymous call to the police a month after Jason’s body was found saying: “I just want to say it shouldn’t have happened like that. I want you to know it was an accident.I’m the man you are all looking for”
Jan 1986 Police in Leeds are sent anonymously a tape recording of a man describing Jason Swift’s murder. The man claimed Jason had been picked up by his killer at Barclays Brothers, a cafe directly opposite the Houses of Parliament. For days officers filmed the cafe but the stake-out was abandoned without result. The man who made the tape was traced, and found to be a hoaxer.
17th Jan 1986 Operation Stranger is launched. This was a joint operation between Essex police and the Met and for the first time in a murder enquiry the HOLMES computer was utilised.
Three strands fell under the operation- the Brent (baby sitting) inquiry, Jason Swift and the “dirty dozen” ring.
In the first twelve months of the inquiry nearly 3,000 questionnaires were completed, 839 statements taken, 400 reports submitted, checked and logged, 1.400 messages from the public evaluated, and countless suspects interviewed. The Jason Swift suspects became the first ever to be officially interviewed on tape in England.
10th February 1986 Having traced the 13 year old boy they had failed to find the previous November, Sidney Cooke and Lennie Smith are arrested and remanded to prison for “dirty dozen” related offences. Smith was released at the committal proceedings relating to the Jason Swift trial in February 1988. Cooke has remained in custody ever since.
16th April 1986 Operation Stranger is made public at a press conference when, for the first time, the murders of Jason and Barry are officially linked.
21st April 1986 A special national conference was convened at Scotland Yard, which was attended by the heads of CID in all police forces in the UK. Arranged by Commander Corbett of Scotland Yard’s criminal intelligence unit, its purpose was to discuss child killings and abductions. Of all the (many) cases discussed, three cases in particular attracted the attention of the men from Operation Stranger – Mark Tildesley, Vishal Mehrotra and a Brighton boy who had been viciously assaulted in 1983.
7th May 1986 Second post-mortems are performed by Prof Austin Gresham on the bodies of Jason Swift and Barry Lewis. Prof Gresham’s findings with regards to injuries inflicted on Jason contrasted markedly with the original post-mortem findings and detectives realise they are hunting for a gang of men, not just one.
Summer 1986 Lennie Smith is interviewed in Brixton prison over a sighting of Jason Swift leaving his Templemead flat.
26th Nov 1986 David Bright (accompanied by DS Terry Cook) interviews Sidney Cooke in Brixton prison. Cooke had been bragging in the exercise yard to another prisoner called John Buckle (may not be his true name) about his exploits with children, had also talked about the death of Jason Swift and the inmate was so sickened he had got a message to the police.
5th June 1987 The “dirty dozen” are convicted. Sidney Cooke receives a two year sentence, and Lennie Smith receives 30 months.
24th June 1987 Robert Oliver is arrested and charged with indecency charges related to the Brent baby-sitting inquiry (which had come to light Easter 1987), and Jason Swift. At some point police had been keeping a casual observation on a shoe shop in Mare Street (where Oliver worked on Fridays) and a cafe called Mungo’s in the East End. When arrested both Oliver and Leslie Bailey were staying at the home of Leslie Bailey’s mother. Whilst being interviewed Oliver claims to have known Jason Swift through Lennie Smith and Sidney Cooke, and to have also seen Jason in the shoe shop. Significantly, when Oliver’s room at a flat in Hackney was searched, four empty containers of Diazepam- the drug used to subdue both Jason and Barry- were found.
29th June 1987 Robert Oliver is remanded into custody suspected of grave offences against Jason Swift
21st July 1987 Mulling over Robert Oliver’s story, detectives remember Leslie Bailey, and Bailey and Steven Barrell (now living in Dagenham, and who Bailey was living with in 1985) are arrested and charged on suspicion of murdering Jason Swift. Bailey claims to have met Robert Oliver for the first time in November 1985 and, at the time, Oliver was lodging (along with a mini-cab driver called Dave) at 36 Ashmead with Donald Smith. Bailey names the men present on the day Jason was killed, and tells police that another boy was also present in the room when Jason was killed, and the boy left afterwards with Robert Oliver. This second boy was never traced or identified but the general belief was that he genuinely existed. Bailey is remanded into custody. Barrell, with no previous convictions, is granted bail.
22nd July 1987 Donald Smith, the tenant of 36 Ashmead (since 1980) is arrested and interviewed by Detective Constables Ken Forster and Ernie Carr.
26th July 1987 Donald Smith is charged
28th July 1987 Sidney Cooke is again questioned over two days and confesses to his involvement in the death of Jason Swift. Cooke claims he was invited to a “gang bang” by Robert Oliver, Lennie Smith brought Jason to the flat, and there were six men in total present.
3rd August 1987 Sidney Cooke, having completed his sentence for the Dirty Dozen offences, is released. Immediately arrested outside the prison gates he is charged (along with Robert Oliver) with the murder of Jason Swift and immediately remanded back into custody.
6th Aug 1987 Lennie Smith is again interviewed. he tells police he had been picked up as a rent boy by both Sidney Cooke and Donald Smith but flatly refused to discuss Jason Swift, answering each question with “no comment”.
28th Sept 1987 Robert Oliver pleads guilty to a charge arising out of the Brent inquiry and is given a three months prison sentence.
23rd Oct 1987 Lennie Smith, having completed his sentence for the “dirty dozen” offences, is released from prison. Immediately arrested outside the prison gates he is charged with the murder of Jason Swift on the following day and remanded back into custody until trial.
15th Feb 1988 Committal proceedings commence against Sidney Cooke, Robert Oliver, Leslie Bailey, Lennie Smith and Donald Smith, lasting for three days and then adjourned till April.
April 1988 Leslie Bailey and Robert Oliver are committed for trial on charges of murder, conspiracy to bugger and gross indecency. Donald Smith, Cooke and Barrell are sent for trial on manslaughter charges. Charges against Lennie Smith have already been dropped.
20th Feb 1989 The jury is sworn in and is then immediately discharged, with several weeks of legal argument ensuing. Murder charges against Bailey and Oliver are reduced to that of manslaughter
15th March 1989 The case against Donald Smith is discharged.
12th May 1989 Sidney Cooke, Leslie Bailey, Robert Oliver and Stephen Barrell are convicted of the manslaughter of Jason Swift, receiving sentences totalling 174 years. As all sentences were to run concurrently, they were jailed for 19, 15, 15 and 13.5 years respectively. It is said at the trial that Cooke and Oliver knew Lennie Smith well, and Bailey and Barrell knew each other well too. It was also stated that Jason had become involved with Lennie Smith, who handed Jason on to Sidney Cooke because he feared police were taking an unhealthy interest in him.
Operation Stranger is wound up.
10th August 1989 The cellmate of Leslie Bailey, Ian Gabb approaches a prison officer, shows him a notebook which details further confessions by Bailey and the officer rings Roger Stoodley.
16th Aug 1989 Disguised as a vicar, DI Bob Brown visits Ian Gabb in Wandsworth prison. Police decide to take Gabb up on his offer of further assistance and he subsequently also shares a cell with Robert Oliver and, very briefly, with Sidney Cooke. At least three other prison informants were also to be utilised in the same way
16th August 1989 Operation Orchid is launched to investigate the murders of other missing boys, including Barry Lewis and Mark Tildesley as a result of the information provided by Ian Gabb. Gabb lists 20 men involved in the same gang, 11 of them he identifies by name, the others by description. Gabb also recorded 8 burial sites described to him by Bailey. Steven aged 13 and Paul aged 11 are mntioned, both buried near a slip road in the West End. The graves of 4 more unnamed boys are given as being in Walthamstow cemetery, beneath Brighton Pier, in the grounds of a disused synagogue school in Hackney and another in the Walthamstow area beside a pub. Bailey later gave another prison informant “Adale” names of boys he said he had murdered – David, Mat, Micky, George, Paul, Gerry, Johnny, Jimmy and “that gypsy kid”. “Adale” made rough sketches of where Bailey said the bodies were buried.
3rd Nov 1989 Gabb shares a cell with Robert Oliver, and until 5th January 1990. To give the Orchid squad the “quality control” that they craved, moves were made to bug the cell, however a senior officer took a different view and plans to bug were abandoned.
Late 1989 Amongst other cases the Orchid squad were checking was Vishal Mehrotra and although a meeting was held with police in Surrey it was said that nothing emerged that could shed any more light on his death. The 1983 Brighton attack was also again looked at after, time and again, Brighton was mentioned in Ian Gabb’s letters.
29th Nov 1989 Gabb alerts police to the fact that Cooke is to apply to regain his diaries. The diaries – which contained details of the fairs Cooke had worked at over a number of years- were tracked down by the Orchid squad.
15th Feb 1990 Gabb shares a cell with Sidney Cooke for 48 hours.
2nd May 1990 Under police surveillance at the time, Lennie Smith is arrested for indecent assault and given a 3 year sentence. Whilst serving the 3 year sentence for indecent assault Smith was interviewed with regards to other offences involving a six year old boy.
1990 Throughout 1990 Roger Stoodley used the tabloids to alert the gang to the extent of Bailey’s confessions, and to sow seeds of suspicion and the fear of future discovery in their minds. Various reporters were fed regular snippets of information, which were “a mixture of truths, half-truths and downright inaccuracies”, deliberately planted to alarm and confuse those suspects both inside and outside prison and press speculation and exaggerations were deliberately not corrected. This disinformation campaign also had the effect of keeping the boys deaths on the front pages many years after they had happened in the hope that some members of the public might suddenly recall a vital piece of information and come forward.
21st May 1990 Leslie Bailey is taken by detectives to a cemetery on Lea Bridge Road. One of “Adale’s” maps referred to this same cemetery that had been detailed as a site in the Ian Gabb notebook however Bailey told detectives they had the wrong site and instead identified a car park at Clapton Common which had been an old graveyard called the Satmar Cemetery. Bailey was too vague at half a dozen other places thought to match Gabb’s description of burial sites but detectives did start digging at the Lea Bridge Road car park on 24th May 1990. Fragments of bone were sent to zoology experts at the University of London but were found to be animal, not human.
5th June 1990 “Adale” tells detectives that Bailey has told him details about Barry Lewis, and Bailey is taken to Stoke Newington police station. Later that month Bailey is questioned again, confesses to the murder of Barry, demonstrates how he killed him and detectives then knew they were talking to Barry’s killer.
12th May 1990 Bailey is taken back to the Kingsmead Estate and tells detectives he knew seven or eight men present at the orgy involving Barry, “but there were more”.
21st July 1990 By then having shaved off his moustache and lightened his hair, no witnesses could pick out Bailey at an identity parade.
30th July 1990 Leslie Bailey is charged with the murder of Barry Lewis at Highbury Magistrates Court and taken straight back to Stoke Newington to be now questioned about Mark Tildesley. Detectives begin re-interviewing Barrell, Cooke and Oliver about the crimes Bailey had said they had been involved with. A man who may have attended the Ashmead parties was traced to Aberdeen but there was no firm proof that he had been there. Men in Newcastle Upon Tyne, Durham and Wales were also visited but, again, their inquiries bore them no fruit.
5th Aug 1990 Bailey is back in Wandsworth for a few days then moved to a secure unit at another police station where detectives began a series of interviews that were to last for almost a year. Gradually Bailey told the full story of Mark Tildesley’s death. Orchid and Thames Valley detectives started operating on the case as a joint squad.
May 1991 Lennie Smith is released from prison, immediately charged with offences involving the 6 year old boy and remanded back into custody pending trial.
May 1991 The first of a total of sixty four interviews with Sidney Cooke commences. During one interview Cooke describes in the most minute detail what he had done to Barry at 36 Ashmead.
14th June 1991 Leslie Bailey pleads guilty to the murder of Barry Lewis. Bailey’s conviction led to Sidney Cooke, Robert Oliver and Stephen Barrell appealing against the sentences they had received for the killing of Jason Swift.
It was revealed in court that Bailey had identified the names of seven or eight men who had participated in the orgy involving Barry, and that Bailey had been introduced to homosexual orgies by Lennie Smith and Donald Smith, meeting Robert Oliver and Sidney Cooke at a later date. Sometime after admitting to killing Barry, Bailey guided detectives to a thicket beside a cottage in Chipping Ongar where Bailey claimed he had buried another body. Describing this boy as a 13/14 year old “Paki boy” whose name was Hassan, Bailey revealed that Hassan too had been brought to 36 Ashmead for another “party” where about sixteen men were present. Again, the Orchid squad decided to dig up the area but this too proved to be fruitless. Bailey also confessed that another boy – who became known as the “unknown boy” because there was no clue as to his identity – was also killed at 36 Ashmead. His body, Bailey said, was disposed of by one of the gang in Chingford. .
Summer 1991 A man related to Leslie Bailey is interviewed in prison to see if he knows anything about Bailey’s associates, and detectives also visit the man’s family. The man was to claim that he had seen both Cooke and Lennie Smith carry Jason’s body into the back of Cooke’s Jaguar and had confronted them both in a pub several days later. His evidence was regarded as vital, particularly with regards to Lennie Smith’s involvement, but had to be treated with extreme caution because he too was a convicted sex offender.
Donald Smith admits to detectives that he was present at the Jason Swift orgy and, as well as naming Cooke, Bailey and Oliver – all already in prison for the crime- he also named Lennie Smith and another man who had not been convicted. He also then described the Barry Lewis orgy. Eddie Gough’s name frequently cropping up, Roget Stoodley turned to the CPS for advice on charging him.
3rd Aug 1991 A witness who claimed to have seen Sidney Cooke in a candy shop with Mark Tildesley picks him out in an ID parade. A lorry driver who gave Cooke a lift that day and another witness also pick him out.
31st August 1991 Edward Gough is charged with the manslaughter of Jason Swift. The charge was later amended by the CPS to conspiracy to seriously sexually assault and indecently assault Jason Swift immediately prior to his death in 1985.
10th Oct 1991 Leslie Bailey is formally accused of murdering Mark Tildesley.
1st Nov 1991 Donald Smith, who had previously refused to elaborate, tells police that he wants to talk about Jason Swift because, now dying of cancer, he wants to tell the truth. He is then interviewed over a three day period.
21st Feb 1992 On the basis of Bailey admitting his involvement in the deaths of Barry Lewis and Mark Tildesley, coupled with claims that he was the ringleader of the gang, the Court of Appeal reduces the sentences of Sidney Cooke and Stephen Barrell. Robert Oliver’s appeal is dismissed.
7th Oct 1992 Papers outlining cases against Lennie Smith with regards to Jason Swift, and Sidney Cooke with regards to Mark Tildesley having previously been submitted to the CPS, it decided that, whilst evidence existed, a prosecution against Smith and Cooke would fail because it relied too heavily on Leslie Bailey’s evidence, and Bailey’s confession was not enough to prosecute them. It advised that no more charges were to be brought against them, or anyone else.
22nd October 1992 Leslie Bailey pleads guilty at Reading Crown Court to the manslaughter and buggery of Mark Tildesley and, after instructing his defence counsel to seek the maximum sentence possiible, is given two terms of life imprisonment. Bailey’s counsel went on to say that Bailey could not understand why Lennie Smith and Sidney Cooke were not in the dock with him. Mark was killed during a homosexual orgy in a caravan in Evendens Lane, Wokingham. Police believed the caravan (but not Mark) had been later taken to Hackney. It was said in court that in 1984 when Mark Tildesley was abducted and killed, that Bailey had been having a homosexual relationship with Lennie Smith who, in turn, knew Cooke, and the first time that Bailey met Cooke was on the day that Mark was killed.
October 1992 Following the conviction of Leslie Bailey Operation Orchid was wound down
9th Dec 1992, Lennie Smith is sentenced to 10 years imprisonment for a string of vicious sexual assaults eight years earlier against the six year old boy who he had been baby-sitting.
26th/27th Mar 1993 Edward Gough is given two years’ probation for a series of lesser offences. Judge Lawrence Verney ruled that police interviewing Gough when he confessed to being present during the killing of Jason Swift had breached guidelines in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act.
He said that Gough, who was found to have an IQ of about 76, should have been accompanied by an ”appropriate adult” during questioning
Oct 1993 Leslie Bailey is found strangled to death in his cell in Whitemoor Prison. On 5th July 1995 inmates John Brooks (formerly Cairns) and Michael Cain were convicted of his murder.
Sept 1997 Robert Oliver is released from prison and changes his name to Robert Lee.
24th Mar 1998 David Bright and DCI Dick Madden visit Sidney Cooke unannounced in Wandsworth prison. David Bright’s retirement looming, and Cooke indicating he may move to Southend upon his imminent release, he wanted to find out where Cooke did intend to relocate and for Dick Madden to get a good look at him incase it was indeed to Southend. David Bright was also hopeful of engineering the conversation round to talk about missing children, Mark Tildesley and Mark’s burial site, however David got nothing in the way of information from him.
30th Mar 1998 It was reported that Stephen Barrell was living in Abingdon, Northamptonshire. His current whereabouts are not known.
6th Apr 1998 Sidney Cooke is released from prison and changes his name to Sidney Lomas. Cooke lives in a police station for 9 months at his own request.
29th Jan 1999 Sidney Cooke appears before Newbury Magistrates Court, charged with 14 serious sexual offences. which were said to have taken place in Battersea and Stockwell in south London; Twyford, Berks; Canterbury, Kent; Washington, Tyne and Wear and Hatfield, Berkhamsted and Tring in Herts. Cooke’s arrest was after a Dispatches programme which sought to find links between Cooke and Mark Tildesley’s disappearance led to a man who had been a friend of a man whose family Cooke had once lived with in the 1970’s to tell his friend. This resulted in Thames Valley Police (commanded by Trevor Davies) launching an investigation into Cooke’s offences against this family.
20th Apr 1999 Sidney Cooke is charged with serious sexual offences committed between 1972 and 1980 and remanded into custody.
17th June 1999 Lennie Smith is released from prison, but into a prison housing unit for former sex offenders at his own request
5th Oct 1999 Sidney Cooke’s trial commences at Manchester Crown Court and he pleads guilty to 18 specimen charges involving offences against two brothers, admitting to five counts of indecent assault and five counts of buggery, committed between 1972 and 1978..
David Bright attends the trial in the faint hope Cooke would make a dramatic statement admitting to other crimes.
17th Dec 1999 This time at Wolverhampton Crown Court (where the sentencing judge, Judge Poole, was then sitting) Sidney Cooke receives two life sentences. Now retired, David Bright attends, and speaks with Thames Valley Police about Cooke.
Cooke is currently in HMP Wakefield.
2006 Lennie Smith dies from AIDS.
12th June 2013 Robert Oliver (who has changed his name to Karl Curtis) pleads guilty before Maidstone magistrates to two breaches of a Sexual Offences Prevention Order (SOPO).and is remanded in custody to await sentencing.
13th July 2013 Robert Oliver receives a three year prison sentence for the above offences, and is released a year later. He was last known to be residing in a bail hostel in Guildford.
Sources: Lambs to the Slaughter by Ted Oliver and Ramsey Smith, Catching Monsters by David Bright, Court of Appeal judgments, available documentary footage, and various press clippings.