Daily Mail, 9th March 1998
How can they call this justice?; Next month, the paedophile who brutally killed him will walk free. He was Lavinia Tildesley’s baby, her youngest child. ‘My Mark’ she called him
by Jo-Ann Goodwin
JOHN and Lavinia Tildesley have lived in the same area of Wokingham all their lives. There have been Tildesleys in the town for centuries. They still live in Rose Court, which retains an air of the original market town.
They know everyone. They have two older children, Christina, 39, and Christopher, 32, both of whom are married with children.
Lavinia was 42 when she had her youngest child, Mark. He was a late baby, 13 years behind his elder brother, and Lavinia admits she spoiled him.
Friends of the Tildesleys will tell you how much the boy was loved. ‘My Mark’ his mum called him. Her baby.
In 1984, her husband John was working at a local metal working foundry, where he’d been for 19 years and Lavinia was a cleaner five mornings a week at the police station. Mark was seven.
His most treasured possession was a second-hand bike. It was a gold Raleigh Tomahawk. He rode it everywhere in the old town. He exasperated shopkeepers by leaving the bike in doorways, but they all knew him and were fond of him. He was mischievous but polite, with a shy smile. ‘He was a livewire,’ Lavinia says, ‘full of energy. Like most kids he was always wanting to get out and play.’ On Friday, June 1, 1984, the half-term holiday was almost over and Mark had been saving for a treat. The Frank Ayers Funfair came to Wokingham four times a year and it was back in town. He was desperate to go.
He got 30p a week pocket money, but all week he’d been working to supplement this. Mark returned leftover trolleys at a local Tesco and claimed a 10p deposit that most customers couldn’t be bothered to collect. He was doing well out of this. He also had a third, and unexpected, source of funds. A tall stooping old man had talked to him on that Friday afternoon. He was smelly, but he’d handed over 50p for sweets. The old man said he was also going to the fair that night. Mark’s favourite was the dodgems and the smelly old man said he’d pay for him to have a ride.
That evening, Mark bolted down his tea of sausage and chips, raring to go to the fair. At 5.30pm Lavinia was anxious not to be late for her second job at Sherwoods Cleaners. She had given Mark permission to go to the fair, but stressed the rules. He had to be back for 7.30pm when she came home from work. He promised he would be on time and Lavinia believed him. He was well-behaved and if he said he would be back, he would be. ‘Don’t worry Mum,’ he said.
‘I’ll probably be back in the house before you.’ She kissed him as she left. ‘Bye Mum,’ he said. ‘I’ll see you when you get back.’ Her last sight of him was his rapt face, watching cartoons on TV.
His father John handed over the pocket money and warned his son again about sticking to his time limit. ‘If you’re not back by half past, we’ll come and meet you.’ Mark headed for the carnival field on his Tomahawk. He was wearing his cream jacket with the big tiger on the back. It matched his tiger key ring.
ON THAT same day, June 1, Sidney Cooke was 57 years old. Originally from Stroud, Gloucestershire, he had left school at 14, worked as a farm labourer and had been in the Army. Discharged in 1952 as ‘an unsatisfactory soldier’, he worked on travelling fairgrounds.
In 1961 he was convicted of indecent assault on a boy and fined $20, which before 1984 was his only conviction for a sex offence. He was tall with a stooping walk and smelt. Witnesses later commented on the smell. The woman in the sweet shop had to open the door after he had come in with Mark on that Friday. She remembers wondering how the boy could stand it.
COOKE had arranged to meet his new friend at the fair that evening. They went on the dodgems then left, walking hand in hand down Langborough Road, towards a car where two members of his paedophile gang – Lennie Smith and Leslie Bailey – were waiting.
In his later confession to police, Bailey remembered seeing that Mark had tried to get free, pulling at Cooke’s hand. In a last effort the boy braced himself against the back door car sill, refusing to get in, his legs rigid. But the three adults forced him inside and Cooke sat beside him in the back. Bailey drove the car down Evendons Lane. There was caravan parked in a field known to locals as ‘The Moors’. The three men took the boy inside.
Lavinia came home from work early that evening and joined her husband and the dog, Thumper, in a walk to the carnival field. ‘We thought we’d watch him on the rides. The first thing we saw was his bike.’ The Tomahawk had been chained up to a gate. Mark didn’t want anyone making off with it. He’d put the tiger key ring in his pocket.
Lavinia and John walked round the fair with mounting anxiety. However, they felt he’d never have left without his bike. He had to be somewhere. But as the light faded there was still no sign of Mark. Worry turned to panic. They called the police.
Bailey called that evening’s events ‘Mark’s party’. A fourth man, ‘Oddbod’, had joined the group. Mark was handed a glass of milk. He said that it ‘tasted funny’. It was laced with drugs, almost certainly diazepam, a muscle relaxant and tranquilliser. He drank only half of the glass. Then he was taken in to the bedroom, the four men following. What Cooke and the other three men did to Mark can’t be described here.
According to Bailey’s testimony, Mark died within half an hour. He was screaming as the men held him down. Cooke said to leave the body disposal to him. A year later a tiger key ring was found in Cooke’s repossessed car.
ON MAY 15, 1989, five years after Mark’s death, Sidney Cooke was sentenced to 19 years’ imprisonment at the Old Bailey for the manslaughter and buggery of Jason Swift, a 14-year-old rent boy from East London. Sentenced alongside him were his lover, Robert Oliver, Leslie Bailey and a man called Steven Barrell.
Three years later, Cooke, Oliver and Bailey were also implicated in Operation Orchid, a police investigation into the organised abduction, sex abuse and murder of boys, which included the disappearance of Mark. Although Cooke and Oliver were named in the 1992 Operation Orchid court case, only Bailey, who had confessed in jail, was charged. He was given life for the murder of six-year-old Barry Lewis and Mark.
In his confession, Bailey had also mentioned his part in Jason Swift’s murder, for which Cooke had paid the heaviest price. Jumping on the confession, Cooke successfully appealed against his 19-year sentence, which was cut to 16 years.
Yet it is accepted by the police officers involved in the case and prison professionals that Bailey, backward and easily led, was not the prime mover.
That distinction is shared by Cooke, Oliver, and former rent boy and paedophile pimp, Lennie Smith. Oliver was freed last September. Cooke comes out next month. The HIV-positive Smith is due out in 1999. Experts agree that it is extremely likely that the three men will reoffend.
As April 6, the day of Cooke’s freedom, approaches, Lavinia’s dread increases. ‘I can’t believe he’s getting out,’ she says. ‘He should never be let out after what he’s done. He was the one who took Mark and in four weeks he’ll be walking the streets.’ It is hard not to share Lavinia’s disbelief at Cooke’s release.
Because he was sentenced before the 1991 Criminal Justice Act, he is automatically eligible for parole after serving two-thirds of his sentence, which he has done.
LIKEWISE, he will not be supervised following his release. For people sentenced after that date, parole is no longer automatic on completion of two-thirds of sentence – and he would have been supervised by a parole officer. Hardly a watertight safeguard, but at least it’s something.
Well aware of how to play the system, Cooke has consistently refused to admit to his part in the murders of Mark, Jason Swift and Barry Lewis. Because he was charged with manslaughter rather than murder, he was not given life.
Myra Hindley and Ian Brady, the child murderers who are most often compared to Cooke, Oliver and Smith, have each served more than 30 years with no prospect of release. Cooke has served just nine years.
It has been doubly hard for the Tildesleys because Mark’s body has never been found. ‘I want my son’s body back,’ says Lavinia, ‘until I have his body I can’t come to terms with this.’ Her husband puts it more starkly. On being told by police in the autumn of 1991 that Leslie Bailey had confessed to the murder of his son, John said that he was sorry, ‘but until I see Mark’s body, I just can’t accept it’.
Mark should have been 21 this year. ‘It’s not natural for children to die before the parents,’ she says. ‘It’s you who should die first.’ The Free Church in Wok-ingham have given the Tildesleys a grave plot, a focus for their mourning. Lavinia goes to the graveside, but there is a tiny part of her that refuses to believe that this terrible thing could have happened. ‘I have to hope,’ she says, ‘without hope there’s nothing.’ Nevertheless, she wants Cooke locked up for life and all the rest with him. ‘I’m frightened of what he’ll do when he gets out. Anyone can see he’s going to do it again.’
Cooke knows where her son is buried, but has refused all requests for information. Lavinia says she knows there is no chance of him telling the truth. ‘I cope from day to day,’ she says, ‘what else can you do?’ MEANWHILE, Cooke is making plans for his new life. He has requested a private release from an unspecified location, aware of the possibility of a hostile reception. He’s changed his name to Sidney Lomas, had a new haircut and grown a beard. On release, he intends to ‘marry’ his fellow homosexual paedophile Robert Oliver, 43.
Within weeks of his release last year, Oliver was seen by police to be taking an ‘unhealthy interest’ in boys at Hove public library and later on Brighton Beach. Confidential reports compiled after Oliver’s release say he is ‘very likely’ to commit further sexual offences against boys.
Neither he nor Cooke has shown remorse. Oliver is in voluntary custody at a secure psychiatric unit near Milton Keynes. He has remained there for his safety after facing furious residents when his address was discovered first in Wiltshire and then in Brighton. He is, however, free to walk out at any time, and police and psychiatrists believe it likely he is waiting for Cooke’s release. Oliver has also changed his name. He is known as Robert Lee.
The police don’t know how many other boys were killed. Leslie Bailey wasn’t sure. It was definitely quite a few, but he couldn’t remember. But Cooke would be able to tell them. There are any number of unloved boys who have disappeared. In his confession, Leslie Bailey found it hard to recall them all, there had been so many ‘parties’ David’s party, Mat’s and Micky’s, George and Paul’s. What is certain is that with the imminent release of Cooke, there will be more ‘parties’ to come.
Ray Wyre, principal consultant of the Lucy Faithfull Foundation for Child Protection, believes it is possible to rehabilitate sex offenders. But some people, he says, cannot be helped. Cooke is one of them. He points out that the law is inadequate to deal with such cases and that the failure of the system ‘will be paid for by the lives of future victims’.
Legislation must be changed, he says. He believes it is possible to devise legally acceptable ways of measuring how dangerous people such as Cooke, Oliver and Smith are. Such people, he feels, can never be let out. Referring to Cooke’s imminent release he is clear: ‘I wouldn’t even take the risk. Of course they will do it again and why are we risking this?’
THE PRISON authorities presumably agree. Unusually, in the run-up to his release, Cooke has been deemed unsuitable for day release or weekend leave, which is normally granted to ease the returning convict back into society. Yet in five weeks he will be free. The police officers who worked on the murder of Jason Swift and on Operation Orchid are acknowledged to have done a superb job. Their reward is to watch the perpetrators walk free. One of the officers involved, acting Sergeant Geoff Gilbert, still works at Wokingham police station. He has remained close to the Tildesleys. He knew the family and Mark before the tragedy. ‘He was a bright little boy, and very much loved.
He was so well cared for.’ As for the effect on the Tildesley family, Sgt Gilbert is brief.’You don’t get over it. Ever.’