Gardai to pursue DNA testing and conduct new searches amid fresh leads
Investigators are still hopeful latest information may lead to vital breakthrough in case
The information received by gardai about the multiple paedophile abuser Eamon Cooke is possibly the strongest lead to date in the 30-year search for Dublin schoolboy Philip Cairns.
It will take a lot of detective work to follow that lead to its conclusion. Their work starts with DNA.
There is human DNA evidence of unknown origin on Philip's schoolbag which was dumped in a laneway off Ballyroan Road near the Cairns' home six days after his disappearance. It had rained in the interim but the bag and the schoolbooks were dry, strongly suggesting it was held in a dry place.
The DNA from the schoolbag is now being compared with Cooke's.
If there is a match, it will point to the conclusion that Cooke lured or abducted and then killed Philip. It could also lead to a re-examination of Cooke's known residences and a possible likely murder scene. Advances in DNA detection and analysis are such that even after 30 years it is quite possible to elicit vital clues. British police have been spearheading historic DNA investigations and have had a run of solving murder cases 30 years and older.
Gardai are also likely to talk to some of Cooke's many victims again.
The pirate radio DJ preyed on abandoned, vulnerable women in order to abuse their children. He was possibly one of the worst paedophiles the gardai had encountered in Dublin, sources said.
Cooke was eventually convicted on 42 counts of rape and sexual assault in 2007 and was still serving his term in Arbour Hill Prison at the time of his death, released only for hospice care.
When his victims were interviewed by detectives at that time, gardai had no reason to ask them if Cooke ever mentioned Philip Cairns. Cooke never came up as a suspect in the initial or even subsequent investigations into Philip's disappearance.
The Garda did not keep any register of sex offenders at the time.
Even though the geographic distance between Cooke's homes in and around Inchicore and near Tallaght are not that distant from Philip's home, and the scene of his disappearance, his name simply did not come up in the investigation.
In fact, the initial investigation concentrated on a quiet bachelor known to Philip. Considerable time and effort was devoted to a detailed investigation of this man until it was positively shown he had a full account of all his movements around the time of the disappearance. By the time he was finally cleared as a suspect the investigation had already begun to run out of time and direction. It has not significantly moved forward up to recent weeks when the new evidence brought fresh impetus.
One of the many children abused by Cooke is believed to have brought forward the latest lead that caused gardai to question one of the vulnerable women in Cooke's past and to try and elicit some kind of confession before he died two weeks ago.
Reports that a woman described seeing Philip beaten unconscious and bleeding in the west Dublin house Cooke used as his pirate radio station are said to be accurate.
But, Cooke refused to confirm any detail on his deathbed and the witness has no further information that might lead to the discovery of Philip's body. The disappearance of the 13-year-old schoolboy in October 1986 remains as much a dreadful mystery for gardai as that of the three-year-old Madeleine McCann is for British and Portuguese police.
And, it is almost as much a source of controversy both in and outside the garda as the McCann case. Dozens of claims and counterclaims have been made about the handling of Philip's disappearance and as every year has passed the chances of a real breakthrough diminishes.
But, sources say that while it was not recognised at the time Eamon Cooke exactly fits the type of predatory paedophile that could have murdered Philip. Cooke's preference was for young girls though not exclusively,
The woman's statement to gardai that she saw a boy she has come to believe was Philip lying prone and bleeding in his house is tempered with the obvious question as to why it took her 30 years to come forward. Cooke's imminent death may have freed her from some form of psychological hold he had over her. Or, it may be the result of some suppressed or possibly the product of her imagination.
Garda sources say they are not confident but are 'still hopeful' that the information about Cooke may lead to a breakthrough but it may also lead into another dead end. Cooke apparently made some indications during his interviews with detectives about knowing Philip but refused to disclose what, if anything, he knew happened to the boy or where his body may have been hidden.