Disappearance of schoolboy transfixed the whole nation like Maddy case
Published 11/06/2016 | 02:30
The disappearance of a 13-year-old schoolboy in Dublin attracted huge attention - on a scale similar to the disappearance of Madeleine McCann in 2007.
The cases of missing children always deserve such attention.
Like Madeleine, the disappearance of Philip Cairns has been one of the most perplexing criminal cases in recent times.
Images of a beaming Philip in his confirmation suit, with a white rosette pinned to his jacket, became ingrained in the minds of a generation throughout Ireland - many of whom had simply assumed we would never know what happened to the Dublin schoolboy.
The death of Eamon Cooke (79), a convicted paedophile and founder of pirate station Dublin Radio, has unexpectedly brought into sharp focus the schoolboy's disappearance.
But we must be careful - although a woman has nominated Cooke as the killer of Philip, it will be extremely hard for investigating gardaí to conclusively prove this is the case.
The woman came forward last month as Cooke lay dying in a Dublin hospice and made a statement along the lines that Cooke murdered Philip in his radio studios.
Philip disappeared on the afternoon of October 23, 1986, as he walked back to Coláiste Éanna school where he had been a first-year student for just over a month.
His schoolbag was later discovered in a lane near his family home on Ballyroan Road six days after his disappearance.
This woman has told gardaí that, on the day Philip disappeared, she was in a car with Cooke and the schoolboy.
She says Cooke drove them to his radio studios in Inchicore. The woman claims Cooke struck the child with an implement following an argument. She claims she saw the young boy unconscious and bleeding on the floor shortly after the assault.
The woman claims that she then fainted. When she woke up, she says she was in a car driven by Cooke. She opted to keep this information to herself for almost three decades.
I met Cooke several years ago when he was on the run and wanted by gardaí at the time. He had a disturbing preoccupation with another child, whose pictures he showed me during an interview. I organised, and I'm delighted to have done so, for gardaí to be there at the Red Cow Hotel to arrest him.
Following that arrest, Cooke never tasted freedom again and, in 2007, he was jailed for 10 years for sexually abusing two young girls in the 1970s.
What is particularly interesting at the moment is how he has now become a suspect in this, the most long-running case of child disappearance in the history of the State.
Cooke, who was a twisted, nasty, sick creature preyed on children for many years - and got away with it.
Only when this sick monster was dying in a Dublin hospice, while on temporary release from Arbour Hill, did he become a suspect in Philip Cairns's disappearance.
But even then, as he was receiving palliative care and at the very least knew he was gravely ill, Cooke would admit to very little, although he did verify some details of the woman's statement.
Gardaí were mindful of this. They offered Cooke the opportunity to give any information he had about Philip to a solicitor, a priest or any other professional, who could disclose it to them after his death.
However, 'Captain Cooke' would not or could not give them any information.
It will be very difficult for gardaí to conclusively prove that this paedophile was responsible for Philip's disappearance.
The radio studios in Inchicore has been named as the scene of the crime - but it was demolished a long time ago.
I personally know a number of Cooke's victims - and I have never in all my years as a journalist seen or witnessed a more depraved individual than Cooke.
As a journalist I spoke to Cooke directly and was astonished by the way that he rationalised his abuse of a child.
The fact that Eamon Cooke had the capacity to kill Philip Cairns - if we know this to be a fact or otherwise - may bring some closure to his family.
I truly hope that gardaí can bring this investigation to a satisfactory conclusion for Philip's family, and with that, finally give them some closure.
This could be a huge step towards resolving one of the country's most chilling and unsolved murders.