Meave Sheehan: Dark secrets predator 'Captain' Cooke took to the grave
Evidence has emerged that paedophile Cooke coerced a victim to dump Philip's bag
Published 12/06/2016 | 02:30
In the autumn of 1986, a divorce referendum was on the cards and Dublin survived the worst battering in years from the remnants of Hurricane Charlie and Eamon Cooke was at large.
Down at his pirate radio station in Inchicore, Cliff Richard and Status Quo spun on the decks of Radio Dublin while Cooke swanned around town in a Jaguar usually with young girls in tow. That same year, he had escaped with a suspended sentence for an arson attack on the home of a young woman he knew. Years later, it transpired that the woman was one of his victims that he had punished for threatening to go to the Gardai. Almost two decades passed before he was prosecuted for his paedophile crimes against two young girls. He died last week still in prison for his crimes.
Back in that autumn of 1986, the truth about Cooke was known only to the terrified victims who he groomed and plucked from often troubled and disadvantaged backgrounds for his own perverted ends, and the others who no doubt covered up for him. Cooke lived in Tallaght.
Not far away, in leafy Rathfarnham, 13-year-old schoolboy Philip Cairns finished his lunch, did some maths homework, slung on his schoolbag and set out for the 15-minute walk back to Colaiste Eanna secondary school. He was due back at school for 1.45pm. He never arrived.
No one realised he was missing until after the school closed. The teachers thought he was kept home at lunchtime, and his parents thought he was at school.
Read more: Secret of Philip's lost bag revealed
Search parties were out that night and continued for days. One week after he went missing, detectives spoke to schoolchildren.
That evening, at 7.45pm, two teenage girls found his bag in a laneway near his home. Detectives believed it had just been placed there. They had already searched the lane. The bag was dry, even though it had been wet earlier that day and back then forensics showed up nothing.
As years passed, detectives followed up dozens of leads. Some were genuine. Others were fertile imaginings of well-meaning amateur sleuths. One woman claimed that he was buried under a mound of earth in Rathfarnham.
In 2002, a man dialled 999 and confessed to murdering Philip. He sounded drunk and as though he was ringing from a pub. But detectives never traced him.
Philip Cairns's disappearance on October 23, 1986, appeared to be a crime without clues.
Thirty years after he vanished, one of the country's most mystifying cases of child abduction has taken a chilling twist in the form of an unexpected and compelling lead that points all the way back to the notorious paedophile Eamon Cooke.
It came about through a longstanding and respected community activist in Ballyfermot called Angela Copley. For years she has helped the victims of rampant child abusers such as the priests, Fr Tony Walsh and the notorious Fr Bill Carney. She also knew many of Eamon Cooke's victims.
"This girl rang me. She rang me periodically. She was a victim of Eamon Cooke's and I was trying to help her get on with her life. During the conversation, she came out with this. She told me that a girl threw Philip Cairns's schoolbag in the lane, and that Eamon Cooke had given it to her to do it," Angela Copley told the Sunday Independent.
The woman in question was also one of Eamon Cooke's victims, someone who had been abused by him for many years and, according to Angela, had suffered terribly. Although Angela knew many of Cooke's victims, she did not personally know this woman.
Angela was shocked. She had seen Philip Cairns's disappearance highlighted on Crime Call. There was the repulsive thought: that Eamon Cooke might first of all be connected to his disappearance, and secondly that this paedophile may have forced one his victims to dump what was crucial evidence.
She resolved to report what she was told to Gardai in Rathfarnham garda station. She did so three weeks ago. According to garda sources, the breakthrough in the investigation already came by the time Angela had phoned them. When Gardai put out an appeal about Philip Cairns's disappearance in 2011, a woman responded. She tentatively contacted Gardai but then retreated. When it came to it, she wouldn't make a statement, and she had her own reasons not to. In the past three weeks, detectives have spoken to her again.
What is not clear is whether this woman is the same person that Angela told them about. They could be two different people. But Angela's call has provided new information, and a fresh impetus in the investigation.
Detectives have spoken to the victim Angela told them about.
"I believe they have spoken to her and that's what has progressed things to the stage they are at now," said Angela.
According to reports, the woman is believed to have told detectives recently that she saw Philip Cairns in Eamon Cooke's radio studios in 1986. There was an argument and that she saw him being killed. That Cooke may have forced her to dump Philip Cairns's schoolbag in the laneway afterwards is now a very important line of inquiry, according to sources.
Gardai turned to Cooke. Detectives visited him two to three times. He was by then dying of cancer in a hospice and weak. He spoke with difficulty.
Detectives asked him a list of questions about Philip Cairns. According to informed sources, he confirmed to them that he knew Philip Cairns, and confirmed to them that he was in his car. He also confirmed that he knew the woman. But they got little further information out of him.
Detectives made one final attempt before Cooke died, urging him to unburden himself before he passed away. He refused. Detectives have also spoken with other victims of Cooke's. They include one woman who lived with him for many years. The woman, who has asked not to be identified, met Eamon Cooke in 1989 when she was very young and he was in his 50s. She herself had been seriously abused by a priest, and when she heard that he had been abusing others, she was disgusted.
Detectives asked her all about Cooke, what he was like, whether he owned any land and where it was situated. She has helped them as much as she can. But in all the time he was with her, she said, Cooke never mentioned Philip Cairns to her.
Although detectives looked at many suspected child abusers when investigating Philip Cairns's disappearance, Cooke was not among them. Back in the 1980s, they had no reason to link the pirate DJ to the boy.
Their worlds could not have been more different. Philip Cairns was an utterly innocent schoolboy who classmates described as sometimes shy but always personable. In an interview last years, his younger brother, Eoin, said that knowing Philip, "he only had his clothes on and his schoolbag. He only had 50p on him. Knowing my brother, he would not have gone off on a whim. He wouldn't have decided to go on an adventure. He wouldn't have run away from home. An opportunist could have abducted him".
This weekend, detectives are asking was Eamon Cooke that opportunist? He lived nearby in Airfield, Tallaght. He had been abusing children since at least the 1970s and he roamed with a certain impunity. He had yet to be outed for the notorious paedophile that he was. His victims were all children, too terrified to report him. Those who tried to speak out - such as the young woman whose home he had burned down - were threatened and intimidated.
Eamon Cooke had eight previous convictions spanning 51 years, including shooting with intent, arson, malicious damage and contempt of court. He was married three times and was dogged by rumours about keeping company with young girls and children. Staff at his radio station challenged him at one point.
YouTube has a taped broadcast purported to be Eamon Cooke hitting back at allegations against him in 1978. In his faux radio voice, he says the allegations were that "children were allowed into Radio Dublin and were molested".
"Yes they were the allegations laid down against me personally," he adds. "All I could do was deny them."
Despite all that, Cooke was not publicly exposed for the horrific paedophile that he was until 2003.
He was convicted that year of abusing the girl whose house he had burned down, and a second girl. His conviction was overturned on appeal two years later. He was tried again in 2007 for abusing the girls, this time successfully. Cooke was jailed for 10 years and was 68. He never expressed a word of remorse. He was convicted on 42 counts of abusing two girls between 1976 and 1978.
"Eamon Cooke is a sexual predator motivated by his desire for small children and that is what he is and that is what he always will be," one of his victims said in her victim impact statement to the court. Last night, a relative of Eamon Cooke, who asked not to be named, said she was shocked by the connection between Cooke and Philip Cairns's disappearance. She visited Cooke in the hospice before he died, and he revealed nothing about it.
"I had no idea. In fact I went to visit him once or twice - and nothing. He said nothing," she said. She said she was never close to him, and cut off ties after his conviction in connection with child abuse. This was most shocking. "Everyone remembers Philip Cairns and everybody's heart goes out to that family," she added.
There have been many false leads over the years, but the link to Eamon Cooke is one of the most compelling so far. Gardai have put enormous resources into the investigation.
Thanks to scientific advances, traces of DNA have now been found on Philip's bag, and Gardai will attempt to match it with Cooke's. There will many more interviews and there will possibly searches. All his family want is to find him and bring him home.
Time has moved on and Philip's father has passed away. But in his interview last year, Philip's brother Eoin talked about how his family still hold out for him to come home alive but they know this is unlikely as time passes.
"I would love to see him again, of course. I know really, deep down, that the likelihood of it, the possibility is very remote. You have to hope for the best and prepare for the worst. More than likely there won't be a happy ending."