The Sunday Times, 23rd June 1991
by James Dalrymple

It began with the idle conversation of two men with time on their hands and nowhere to go.
They had fallen as far as it is possible to fall. One was guilty of torturing and murdering a runaway schoolboy, the other had a history of sexual assaults on women. Incarcerated together under Rule 43 of the prison code, they were the untouchables, banished in total isolation from the hatred and possible violence of other inmates and often forced to spend 23 hours locked in their concrete cell in Wandsworth jail, southwest London.

Such men have only the sound of their own voices to pass away the endless hours. And so the child killer began to tell his tale to the rapist. It involved the activities of a group of ordinary men in London’s East End who stalked and snatched boys sometimes as young as six and seven from the streets, took them to flats and subjected them to gross sexual assault before killing them and burying their bodies. He gave details of at least 20 such murders.
Elaborate, boastful fantasy is not uncommon among paedophiles, especially those who are mentally sub-normal, and Leslie Bailey, the 36-year-old man in the security cell, suffered from both conditions. But his cellmate knew that in one case at least it was not fantasy. Bailey had indeed taken part in the group homosexual assault and murder of 14-year-old Jason Swift, who had been drugged, savagely assaulted, tortured and finally strangled. That was why he was serving 15 years in Wandsworth.

His grotesque reminiscences were rambling, disjointed and obscene, but they contained a small amount of detail, including the first names of young boys either hired for money or grabbed in the streets, and some descriptions of what had taken place at a series of parties held by paedophile men over about 18 months. The cellmate, showing that even among sexual deviates there is a point where camaraderie turns to disgust and horror, made secret notes of Bailey’s claims and listed them in a letter to Scotland Yard.

Again, such letters from serving prisoners are common. They are sent almost daily from men prepared to fabricate jail-cell conversations in return for reduced sentences for themselves, and they are not always acted upon. But because it involved Bailey, the letter ended up on the desk of Detective Chief Superintendent Roger Stoodley, the man who led the team on the Jason Swift inquiry. Despite his professional scepticism, when he read the letter he felt that what he had long suspected had finally been confirmed. He knew he could be looking at the first clues that could lead to the exposure of one of the coutry’s biggest and most horrific serial murder cases.

Stoodley, head of CID in the Metropolitan police number two area, covering east London, where Jason had been killed, mounted what has come to be known as Operation Orchid. Within the next four weeks, the country will discover just how wide-ranging this has become. His recently increased squad will begin knocking on the doors of perhaps dozens of men in London and the home counties asking them about their activities in a period covering 1984 to 1986. There will be digging operations at sites where the bodies of children are thought to lie. A number of charges, including abduction and murder, will be laid.

How many? Stoodley will not be specific. It could be between six and 12 murders, possibly nine, involving a loosely organised group of paedophile men, some of them serving jail sentences and some living at known addresses.
Police believe the suspects know they will be visited. They are not watched round the clock, but they are being watched. ”We know where we can find them,” said Stoodley. ”And they will be found when we want them. Soon. We know a great deal about what happened at various parties organised by these men and we expect to find even more detail when we question them. How much more I cannot say at this stage.”

WHEN the letter from Bailey’s cellmate arrived on Stoodley’s desk in Arbour Square police station, off the Albert Road in Wapping, in 1989, he already knew that in the more rundown parts of London there were groups of men, loosely connected through an illicit need, who regularly indulged in sex with under-age boys. They were the loners, the drifters and the transient casual workers, who frequented certain pubs and clubs where their own kind could be found.
They usually lived alone in cheap rented accommodation, having long abandoned any kind of family life, and had no friends in normal society, including everyday homosexual society. They were plugged into a secretive world where the services of cheap rent boys could be easily obtained. They knew the signals, the code-words and the places where the deviant parties were held.

”People always want their paedophiles to be judges or politicians,” said Stoodley. ”But these men were and are pretty low-life. They are not the brightest bulb in the great chandelier of life.” But he soon learned how dangerous they could be. Stoodley, a stocky Dorset man who knows his city and the sexual crimes that are commonplace, is not easily shocked, even by offences of extreme violence. But like every other policeman who became involved in the Swift case, he had been stunned by the brutality and orgiastic frenzy that had occurred among men, seemingly inoffensive and even docile at first glance, when such group sex ran out of control.

The fate of Jason, the desperate loneliness and despair that had driven him to life as a rent boy and the terrible vulnerability inherent in such a lifestyle, had made a lasting impression on Stoodley. Along with other officers, he warned after the Swift case that such paedophile orgies, often involving runaway boys who were living rough in the capital and would not be missed by friends or family, could end in violent death. His warnings made a few sensational headlines and were then forgotten. Stoodley’s worst fears became reality when the letter from Wandsworth was given to him. None the less, he reacted carefully.

”We didn’t speak to Bailey for a long time,” he said. ”We didn’t want to show our hand while he was still sharing a cell with the other prisoner. We just got on with the leg-work.”
That leg-work was massive. Stoodley formed a squad of six officers and threw a security veil around their activities. Other detectives working at the same station did not know for many months what was going on.

To begin with, all the team had was a list of names just first names and occasionally a geographical clue as to where a boy had came from: for example, Harry from Liverpool. So it began the massive trawl around the missing persons’ lists in every police station in Britain. ”We were frustrated by the fact that throughout the country there is no index of missing children. In fact, some of the forces are so bad that they don’t even keep a list at their HQ. We had to check at individual police stations.”

Stoodley found out the hard way what children’s pressure groups and large organisations like the Salvation Army had been warning about for years: thousands upon thousands of children, some in the 10-13 age group, vanished from their homes each year, often heading for London, and there was no central register or tracking unit to control the search for them. They just left, and within a few months or years they were forgotten and given up for good, even by their families. Each day the streets of London were filling up with them, begging, living in derelict houses and sometimes selling their bodies for money. Perfect, untraceable victims.

Painstakingly, the squad checked out what little information it had and began to put psychological pressure on men, both in prison and out, whom it suspected had been involved in Bailey’s murder gang.
Each suspect led to the next, and by last month the detectives had interviewed 92 men in London and elsewhere. Not all of them were paedophiles; sometimes they were straight men, usually common criminals, who had knowledge through underworld scuttlebutt about what had been happening.

The squad concluded that many paedophiles have an almost total lack of guilt about their pursuits. It seemed to the detectives that many simply do not consider that what they do is either morally or socially wrong. But they all fully understand the heavy penalties if they are caught, and their code of silence is perhaps better kept than that of common criminals.

To combat this, Stoodley adopted a policy of instilling fear and rumour into this nether-world. Last year, he had information that a body could be found near a London synagogue and, with massive publicity, dug up the area. The police did find some evidence that a body had been there and then moved to another location, but the dig was also a clear warning to many men, both inside and outside prison, that his squad was on their trail.

The police began to concentrate their attention on men who had been convicted, or were suspected, of the killing of Jason Swift, and looked again at the murder of Barry Lewis, 6, snatched from the street near his home in Walworth, south London. His body had been found within a few days of Jason’s, buried nearby in a shallow grave in a field near Waltham Abbey, Essex.

At an early stage they made a breakthrough when they found what they say is hard evidence that connected their inquiry to the disappearance of Mark Tildesley, 7, from a funfair in his home town of Wokingham, Berkshire, in 1984. There are leads to other cases, too, but at present the police are not revealing names.

”We have not contacted any of the parents,” said Stoodley. ”Some of them still have hope and we don’t want to destroy that hope until we have firm evidence to show them that their child is dead.”
Finally, in April, 1990, they were ready to confront Bailey. After a series of softening-up visits to Wandsworth, they moved him to a police station used for long-term interviews. Their task was first to gain his confidence on a personal level then to break down the wall separating fact and fantasy in the mind of a man who was both mentally subnormal and a psychopath.

Two detective sergeants, Dick Langley and Dave Chappell, spent days on end with him, while his lawyer and a counsellor from Mencap watched to see that the rules were obeyed. Both officers had found their months of work on the trail of violent paedophiles distressing and often disgusting, and their first instinct may have been to grab Bailey by the throat and shake the names and places out of him. But they didn’t. Instead, they chatted and drank tea, talked about anything he wanted to, and every now and then prodded him gently back to his dark narrative.

”It was a brilliant piece of police work,” said Stoodley. ”And those two detectives have said they would have done the job without pay. By then they had a deep commitment to finding the truth and to getting the men responsible.”
The breakthrough came when Bailey finally confessed to the murder of Barry Lewis, for which he was sentenced to life imprisonment this month to run concurrent with the 15-year sentence he is serving for the murder of Swift. In the year-long process of interviews, Bailey also supplied names, places, times and details of many more killings.
”We had always hoped that he would break,” said Stoodley. ”And now we have completed stage one of Operation Orchid. Now we move immediately to stage two, and although we believe that the activities of this particular gang ceased by 1986, it is possible that when we interview the men we suspect we may find con-nections to other matters.”
This is police-speak. It means that Stoodley believes he is close to clearing up a series of major crimes committed by a particular group of men at a specific time. But he can never be sure.

NEXT year a new police national computer will begin collating the names of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of young people missing from home throughout Britain. It is long overdue and it will be useful, but at the moment nobody knows just how many young boys and girls known to pimps and paedophiles alike by the nickname as”mysteries” have been swallowed up in large cities such as London in the past decade. Lost to their families forever.

Nobody knows exactly how many, in the manner of Jason Swift and Barry Lewis, have come to the attention of the type of men who regard them as free-range products on the hoof to be either bought for pleasure or taken by force, used and disposed of in shallow graves.

”How important is murder nowadays to the public, even child murder?” asked Stoodley, as he looked at a tight cluster of pins on a map of the Met police area, denoting unsolved cases. ”Sometimes the newspapers simply give it a couple of paragraphs on the back page, and most of them are forgotten in days. Even kids. That’s the kind of society we have now.”

Slaughter of the Lambs (23.6.91)