true crime

Therese's family was accused of 126 crimes against boys. Then the case was quietly dropped.

Prior to 2018, Therese Ann Cook was known in her community in the NSW Blue Mountains as the eccentric founder of a local circus school which she operated with the help of her family.

By that February, her name and theirs were plastered on the front page of newspapers and media sites (including this one) around the world.

The then 58-year-old, her brother Paul Christopher Cook, 52, and her daughters Yyani Cook-Williams and Clarissa Meredith, aged 29 and 23, had been arrested and charged with dozens of sickening crimes against children. 

Watch: Members of the Cook family speak about their ordeal.


Video via Channel 9

Police filings detailed disturbing acts of sexual assault and abuse involving blood rituals, needles, knives and bitten tongues.

Then without warning and without explanation, the case against them was dropped in February this year.

Members of the family are due to appear on 60 Minutes on Sunday to share their side of what their lawyer described as "one of the greatest miscarriages of justice in NSW history".

Here's how it unfolded.

"I hadn't felt dread like that in my life."

The four members of the Cook family were arrested on February 5, 2018, along with three others who were not identified due to being underage at the time of the alleged offending.

Together, the group was charged with more than 120 offences, including kidnapping, aggravated sexual assault of a child and making child abuse material, which police claimed took place between 2014 and 2016.

The alleged victims were three boys aged between 2 and 7 at the time.

It was alleged that the children were sexually assaulted by the adults and were forced to sexually assault each other. Court documents also detailed instances in which the boys' skin was cut with a knife, needles were poked into their eyes, as well as other disturbing acts involving defecation and drinking blood.

Each of the accused pleaded not guilty, and in a preview for 60 Minutes, several of them describe being stunned by the accusations.

"I was just told when I was arrested that I'd be in prison for 25 [years] to life," Therese Cook says.

"I hadn't felt dread like that in my life," a young male relative adds. "I was so afraid."

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Paul Cook was among those charged. Image: Channel 9.

Prior to being granted bail in 2019, the Cook family spent a combined 206 days in custody and were restricted from speaking to each other for almost two years until...

On February 14, 2020, all 126 charges against them were withdrawn by the Director of Public Prosecutions.

No explanation was given by the DPP. However, during hearings in 2019, a court was told that one of the victims' mothers had kept a record of a conversation in which her son admitted to "lying about the whole thing".

Speaking to media after the decision, the family's lawyer, Bryan Wrench said, "It's one of the greatest miscarriages of justice in NSW history.

"It's horrific the ordeal they have been through when they haven't done these acts.

"Seven people with no prior records, being charged, detained and unable to see each other ... it doesn't get much worse than that."

Despite the DPP's decision, police have been eager to persist with the case.

At the time a NSW Police Spokesperson said it was "the strong recommendation of the Child Abuse and Sex Crimes Squad that the matters proceed before the court". And in July The Sydney Morning Herald reported that the force had appealed to the DPP to have the charges reinstated. The appeal was rejected.

Despite being free, the Cook family tells 60 Minutes on Sunday that they have been deeply affected by what they've been through.

"I carry pain, sadness," Paul Cook tells the program, "some days, despair."

"I still get very scared," his sister says. "Very, very scared."

The Cook family will be speaking to 60 Minutes on Channel 9 at 8.30pm, Sunday, September 6.  

Feature image: Channel 9.

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