Released paedophile staying in police cell

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The Independent Online
THE child-killer Sidney Cooke was released from Prison Service custody yesterday afternoon but he remained in a London police station amid growing public concern at the risk he continues to pose to children.

The Metropolitan Police said that although the paedophile was a free man, he had agreed to being placed under "24-hour monitoring". A loophole in the law means Cooke cannot be subjected to mandatory controls but he has been warned by police that any failure to co-operate with the authorities will result in his whereabouts being disclosed to an angry public. But the hideaway was looking increasingly less secret last night as reporters and television crews gathered outside the police station in east London where he was being held.

Cooke, 70, was freed after serving nine years of a 16-year sentence for the manslaughter of teenage runaway Jason Swift.

Commander Michael Craik, in charge of operations in north-east London, where Jason was murdered in a Hackney flat, said the release had been "carefully managed to minimise the risk he presents to vulnerable members of the public".

He said: "While he is now legally a free person, I have taken the steps necessary to ensure that his movements are monitored 24 hours a day." It is likely Cooke will remain in his police cell until long-term secure accommodation can be found for him. He would then be made to wear an electronic tagging device so that his movements could be monitored.

Robert Oliver, another member of the paedophile gang which killed Jason Swift, is in a medium-security psychiatric unit in Buckinghamshire. He was hounded from town to town and sought refuge in a police station after being released from prison last year. Cmdr Craik said Cooke was aware he could suffer a similar fate. "If his actions make it necessary, police will not hesitate to disclose his identity and whereabouts in order to protect the public."

Shortly before Cooke was set free, Home Secretary Jack Straw admitted new legislation to keep dangerous sex offenders in jail for life could not be introduced before the turn of the century. Mr Straw hopes to bring in powers that will allow judges to impose an "indeterminate sentence" on an offender who has completed their jail term, but is still considered a threat. The Home Secretary conceded yesterday that the legal loophole that allowed Cooke to be released without compulsory supervision had been known for 30 years.

At the same time it became clear the Home Office has decided that the police and probation service will have to make use of existing powers to ensure that Cooke does not re-offend. "You can't put the clock back and re-sentence people; there's no point pretending you can," said Mr Straw.

A gap in the law means that sex offenders convicted before 1992 are not subject to compulsory supervision after their release. In addition, the Crime and Disorder Bill going through Parliament will extend supervision of sex offenders after release for up to 10 years. None of these provisions will apply to Cooke, as he was sentenced in 1989. Cook could be subject to Sex Offender Orders contained in the Bill, which could, for instance, ban him from loitering near playgrounds and schools.