Operation Orchid investigated the paedophile ring led by Sidney Cooke who were responsible for the sexual abuse of dozens of boys, and the murder of up to 25 boys including Barry Lewis, Mark Tildesley and Jason Swift.
Officers working on the case eventually managed to get Cooke to confess to Swift’s murder, but soon after the Crown Prosecution Service decided to downgrade Cooke’s murder charge to the lesser charge of manslaughter. This angered the victims’ families and police, who felt the original murder charge was correct and said “it was the judge and jury who should decide”. This is referred to in this documentary around 38:00:
When Operation Orchid ended, “detectives admitted that they knew there were up to a dozen members of the ring who had escaped prosecution“.
We now have a much better idea of who these other members of the ring might be, thanks to a former Operation Orchid detective who spoke to the Mirror.
A former detective who worked on the original investigation into Cooke told the Sunday Mirror that the minister was among those alleged to have been photographed in a 1986 police surveillance on premises where boys had been dropped off. Others allegedly included Jimmy Savile, MP Cyril Smith and top judges – though none of them were ever arrested.
In spring 1987, when the decision to downgrade the charge was made, the Director of Public Prosecutions would have been either Sir Thomas Hetherington or Sir Alan Green. I haven’t been able to establish the exact date in 1987 when Hetherington stepped down and Green replaced him. They were both a safe pair of hands for the Establishment. In 1981, Hetherington had taken the decison not to prosecute paedophile diplomat Sir Peter Hayman.
Sir Alan Green went on to preside over the unsuccessful appeals of the Birmingham Six and the Guildford Four, both among most notorious miscarriages of justice of the 20th century.
The decision to downgrade the murder charge resulted in Cooke receiving a sentence of only 19 years, remarkably short considering the horrific nature of his crimes. It seems likely that a deal was done to secure Cooke a shorter sentence if he promised to keep quiet about other members of the paedophile ring.
In 1989, the victims’ families received a further blow when the CPS decided to reduce Cooke’s sentence by 3 years as a result of an admission by Leslie Bailey, another member of the gang, that he was the ringleader. This was despite the fact that Bailey had learning difficulties, and all evidence pointed to he fact that Cooke was the ringleader. This resulted in Cooke being released from prison in 1998, having served just 9 years.
Leslie Bailey was later strangled in his prison cell. Another associate of Cooke’s, convicted paedophile William Malcolm, had bragged about being present at Jason Swift’s murder. After he was released from prison he was killed in an apparent hit, one shot to the head on his doorstep in East London. This doesn’t bear the hallmarks of a revenge attack, and looks more like someone making sure that he couldn’t talk about other members of Cooke’s paedophile ring.