A loving family who were falsely accused of evil sex crimes against children have spoken publicly about their devastating ordeal and their terrifying time behind bars.
Seven members of the Cook family, who have run a circus school in Katoomba in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney since 2009, were charged with more than 120 offences in 2018, but the sickening allegations were completely untrue.
Theresa Cook-Williams, 60, her daughters Yyani, 35, and Clarissa, 25, two women aged 22 and 19, a 20-year-old man and 54-year-old Paul Cook were all cleared of any wrongdoing in Penrith Local Court almost two years later in February 2020.
But freedom came after four of the accused had already spent 206 days in prison.
For Clarissa, three of those weeks were in a cold solitary confinement cell where the lights always stayed on.
Therese’s daughter Yyani-Rose Cook-Williams, 35, was falsely accused of ‘inciting’ a boy to rape another little boy
‘You couldn’t sleep. It was freezing. And you can hear the guards talking about you. They call you names and threaten you: ‘you’re going to be raped in here. You’re going to be bashed”,’ she told the Sydney Morning Herald.
Matriarch Theresa Cook-Williams, the accused ringleader, said her greatest distress were the death threats.
‘I was scared of being killed,’ she said.
Seven months on from their release, the family will appear on 60 Minutes to break their silence on the false accusations.
The segment, to air at 8.30pm Sunday, will detail how their lives were torn apart while trying to clear their names – and their fear of being thrown in jail for life.
‘I was just told when I was arrested that I’d be in prison for 25 years to life,’ Theresa Cook said as she broke down in tears clutching her chest in a preview.
The alleged offences involved three boys under the age of ten between 2014 and 2016 and included false allegations of rape, assault and kidnapping.
It was also alleged the family took part in ‘blood rituals’, sticking needles in a person’s eye, and tongue biting, while some boys were allegedly filmed to create pornographic material.
All allegations were false, with the Director of Public Prosecutions withdrawing all 127 charges, but the family was forced to hear them in court as the case played out in the public eye.
‘I still get scared. Very, very scared,’ Ms Cook said in the preview.
In a preview for the interview which will air on Sunday, Ms Cook sobbed as she explained the initial moments following her arrest
Therese Cook is pictured after an accident
Yyani Cook-Williams, her 30-year-old daughter, was wrongly accused of inciting two of the boys to have sex with each other.
She explained how she repeatedly insisted she was innocent during an initial police interview for ‘what felt like an hour’.
‘I would rather be accused of murder,’ Yyani Cook-Williams said.
Her brother explained that he’d ‘never felt dread like that before in my life’.
‘I was so afraid,’ the young man said.
Paul Cook said he still carries ‘pain, sadness, some days despair’ following all charges being dropped.
Yyani Cook-Williams (pictured) explained how she repeatedly insisted she was innocent during an initial police interview for ‘what felt like an hour’
The family (pictured) all maintained their innocence throughout the ordeal and were finally vindicated after nearly two years of hell
After all charges were dismissed, the family’s defence layer Bryan Wrench said the prosecution’s case was weak.
‘Crucial evidence had been overlooked and the police had no leg to stand on,’ he said at the time.
Mr Wrench reiterated his clients’ innocence, and said he was pleased they could finally be reunited after were separated for the length of the court case as part of their bail conditions.
‘It was probably one of the greatest miscarriages of justice this state has seen,’ he told 9News at the time.
‘It was totally concocted, they are totally innocent, and it’s been total vindication today.
‘It’s been a saga, it’s finally over, it’s been two years since they have seen their family and today will be reunited.’
Police falsely alleged in court Therese Cook was the ringleader and organised the ‘systemic rape and detention of the boys’.
She was charged with 43 offences, including aggravated assault of a child, sexual intercourse with a child under 10 and holding children against their will. All charges were dropped.
Her brother Paul was wrongly accused of filming at least one encounter on his mobile phone and three counts of aggravated sexual assault in company.
The family-run Katoomba circus school is pictured
Therese Cook (left) and Yyani-Rose Cook-Williams (right), together in costume
Cook-Williams was wrongly accused of ‘inciting’ a boy to rape another little boy on Anzac Day in 2016 and raping both of the little boys in company with her mother.
Meredith, Cook’s adopted daughter, was charged with rape, assaulting two of the boys and depriving a boy of his liberty.
They all maintained their innocence throughout the ordeal and were finally vindicated after nearly two years of hell.
The court was told one of the alleged victims penned a letter to his mother admitting the allegations were fabricated, but the confession was hidden from investigators.
NSW Police called for a review of the decision to withdraw the charges earlier this year, but it was rejected by the Director of Public Prosecutions.
Timeline of events leading to dismissal of all charges
February 5, 2018: All seven members of the Cook family were arrested on a property in Katoomba, in the Blue Mountains, falsely accused of sexually assaulting three boys under the age of eight.
February 9, 2018: Accused enter pleas of not guilty.
Mid August, 2018: Therese Ann Cook, her daughter Yyani Cook-Williams and Clarissa Meredith were all granted bail.
They were not allowed to contact each other or other members of the family during court proceedings.
March 8, 2019: One of the boys who claimed he was a victim of the family wrote a letter to his mother admitting he had lied about being sexually assaulted.
Defence solicitor Bryan Wrench told the court the boy had written a letter saying: ‘Mum I’m really sorry I’ve been lying about the whole thing. Nobody hurt me, I’ve been lying to you.’
He claimed the boy’s mother had hidden the note from investigators.
February 14, 2020: All charges against each of the seven members of the family were dropped.
They had maintained their innocence throughout the court process.
September 13, 2020: The family will break their silence to appear on 60 Minutes and discuss the trauma of the false accusations and wrong charges.
The inside of the circus which was at the centre of the false allegations is seen above