Saturday 17 February 2018

Girl (9) was in Cooke’s car when he picked up Philip

Eamon Cooke was a vicious and cunning paedophile who preyed on boys as well as girls, writes Maeve Sheehan

Eamon Cooke pictured outside his Radio Dublin studio in Clondalkin in 2001; Inset: Philip Cairns
Eamon Cooke pictured outside his Radio Dublin studio in Clondalkin in 2001; Inset: Philip Cairns
Maeve Sheehan

Maeve Sheehan

In the late 1990s, a young man walked into a police station in England to report that he had been sexually abused as a child. He named the man who abused him as Eamon Cooke, operator of the pirate radio station Radio Dublin.

Cooke used to take him up the Dublin Mountains in his car. Years later, following his move to the UK, he decided to report Cooke. He agreed to make a formal statement to the police in England. The UK police sent the details of the young man's complaint to An Garda Siochana. The complaint ended up being forwarded to detectives at Tallaght Garda Station who, as it happened, had already begun their own investigation into Cooke.

At the time, Cooke's radio operation had moved from his house on Sarsfield Road in Inchicore to a shed in his back garden in Clondalkin, west Dublin. Disc jockeys had to walk through his house to go to work. One DJ came in from the back garden and caught Cooke molesting a child. He reported Cooke to gardai, according to sources, sparking the first criminal investigation into one of the city's most rampant paedophiles. Frighteningly, he was then aged in his 60s and over previous decades, had left a long trail of destroyed childhoods in his wake.

News soon circulated that Cooke was under investigation and some of his victims began to come forward to gardai.

Devastated: Philip’s mum Alice Cairns
Devastated: Philip’s mum Alice Cairns

According to sources close to that investigation, one woman contacted the garda station to "offer a list of names" of people who had been abused by Cooke, including herself. Detectives interviewed "14 or 15" young men and women in Dublin who they suspected were abused by the DJ, according to the source. Four or five of them were boys.

None of the boys were willing to make formal witness statements. Detectives believed they were too afraid to do so. The young man who reported Cooke to the police in England later withdrew his complaint, according to the source. Gardai suspected Cooke "got" to him.

Read more: 'Vile, evil' Cooke 'had it in him' to kill

Although gardai suspected many more had been abused, Cooke went on trial in 2002 for sexual assaults on four women. Two of them were sisters that he abused in the mid-1980s. He abused the two others between 1974 and 1978. Cooke was found guilty and sentenced to 10 years. His conviction was later overturned on appeal and a retrial ordered.

When the retrial came around in 2007, the two sisters he had abused in the 1980s decided not to continue with their complaint against Cooke, according to sources close to the investigation. Cooke was tried on 42 counts of sexual assault against the two girls he had abused in the 1970s. Cooke was handed down another 10 year jail sentence in March of 2007. He was finally put away at 70 years of age.

The evidence against Cooke at both trials was harrowing. The courts heard how children played amongst the television sets, telephones and gadgets in his garage before he gradually lured them into the house and upstairs where he abused them and afterwards offered them money and sweets. He ensured their silence with threats that he would tell their parents or circulate the photographs

Alice Cairns, mother of Philip. Photo: Maxwells
Alice Cairns, mother of Philip. Photo: Maxwells

Cooke operated in the same paedophile playgrounds of Ballyfermot, Crumlin and Tallaght as Fr Bill Carney and Fr Tony Walsh, and with similar apparent immunity, even though several people tried to intervene.

One of them was James Dillon, a station manager and DJ in Radio Dublin. In 1978, an older girl at the station told him about her fears for what Cooke was doing to one of the younger girls. Dillon was disgusted. He set the girl up with a tape and told her to record what the younger girl had said, so they would have proof. Dillon gave the taped evidence to a local priest, who in turn broke the news to the girl's family. The abused girl was Siobhan Kennedy McGuinness, who many years later wrote a book about her abuse at the hands of Cooke. Her family decided not to go to the police at that time (although years later, he was convicted of abusing her). Dillon informed staff and organised a walk-out from the station. Cooke staged his own broadcast to deny allegations that he brought girls into his studio to molest them.

Scores more children went on to play among the television sets and gadgets in Cooke's garage.

Read more: Philip Cairns case: A disappearance still hanging over us 30 years on

He was at the height of his paedophile rampage in the mid-1980s when Philip Cairns disappeared. Philip was last seen on Ballyroan Road in Rathfarnham on Thursday, October 23, 1986. He had left Colaiste Eanna secondary school at 12.45pm and returned to his home for lunch. At 1.30pm, he left his home to return to the school, but never arrived.

His schoolbag was found the following week in a laneway near the school that had already been searched. Although it had been raining, the bag was dry, leading detectives to suspect it had been deliberately placed there after Philip disappeared.

When detectives finally came to investigate Cooke for child abuse in the late 1990s, they had no reason to link him to the disappearance of Philip. It was a high-profile, unsolved case that featured regularly in the media, in newspapers and on television, generally accompanied by prominent images of his smiling schoolboy face.

Around five or six people interviewed by detectives were abused by Cooke in the mid-1980s, when visiting his radio station, according to the source. None of them mentioned Philip Cairns, according to an informed source.

Publicly at least, the first time Philip's disappearance was linked to Cooke was last Friday week, when dramatic new information leaked from the garda investigation room to RTE news that a woman had come forward to claim that Cooke may have killed Philip Cairns at the Radio Dublin studio.

But it appears that gardai have been aware of a possible link between the paedophile and Philip since 2011, when the woman first came forward.

She made contact with gardai following a 25th anniversary appeal for information on Philip Cairns in 2011, but was unable to make a statement. Exactly what she told garda at that time and how much detail she offered is not clear.

Gardai kept in touch with her, said sources.

Read more: Gardai believe paedophile DJ Eamon 'Captain' Cooke may have killed schoolboy Philip Cairns

In May, the woman agreed to make a formal, detailed statement on what she saw as a nine-year-old. One garda source said she had "very good reasons" not to come forward until now, but declined to elaborate on what those reasons were. Another source said she was terrified of Cooke and decided to make a statement when she learned he was dying.

The broad details of what she told gardai have since been widely reported. She was in the car with Cooke on the day he picked up Philip in October 1986. She said he took both of them to Radio Dublin studios in Inchicore. She said Cooke had promised him a visit to the radio station. There, Cooke (above) hit Philip Cairns with a blunt implement after a row broke out. When she went back into the room, she saw the boy on the floor, saw the blood and fainted. When she awoke, she was sitting in the back of Cooke's car.

After her statement, detectives called to St Francis Hospice in Raheny to interview Cooke shortly before his death there on June 4, aged 79. He was receiving palliative care and was weak.

According to one source, Cooke confirmed that he knew Philip and he also confirmed Philip was in his car. Other reports have said that he confirmed that Philip was in his radio studio. His responses, although limited, were taken to have corroborated aspects of the woman's statement.

As gardai followed up the dramatic new lead on Philip's disappearance last month, Angela Copley - unaware of the developments - had been speaking to one of Cooke's victims on the phone. Copley is a veteran community activist from Ballyfermot. Over the years, she has supported victims of various paedophiles and abusers, including Cooke's. She kept in touch with one of Cooke's victims and they spoke periodically.

During this particular conversation, the woman told Copley that she had been told that another woman - also a victim of Cooke's - had dropped Philip's bag in the laneway, on Cooke's instruction. She also offered a name to Copley. Copley resolved to tell the gardai and after a number of attempts, got through to a detective in Rathfarnham Garda Station on May 25, the next day.

Copley said she told the detective what her friend had told her. Last Thursday, the same detective called her to re-interview her about the information she passed on over the phone. Once again, she gave the detective the name she'd been given by her friend on the phone.

Copley said she does not know if this woman is the same woman who signed a statement last May to say that Cooke brought Philip to his radio station.

Garda sources say they don't know who dropped Philip's schoolbag in the laneway. That was the purpose of their appeal for information at a press briefing in Tallaght Garda Station last week.

The schoolbag is now at the heart of the garda investigation. Three unidentified strains of DNA were found on it and it is currently being forensically re-tested. Superintendent Peter Duff told the briefing: "I believe there are people, who were young at the time and may have information in relation to Philip's schoolbag, and for whatever reason did not come forward. I am conscious that following the passage of time and changing circumstances, these people may now be in a position to assist us. I want to reassure anyone who comes forward that they will be treated sensitively and discreetly by investigating gardai."

One garda source said they believe two or three girls may have been involved.

By coming forward and making a statement, the unidentified woman who witnessed the atrocity of Philip's killing as a child finally offers some hope of closure to Philip's family after years of fruitless leads. But she has also been attacked on social media for waiting so long to come forward.

Gardai are cautious about officially releasing any details about this woman or what she told them. This is an ongoing investigation and they are naturally protective of the person who may be the only witness to what happened to Philip. Much of the detail of what the woman says she witnessed as a nine-year-old comes from unofficial garda sources.

In the meantime, the absence of facts has thrown up many questions. How long have gardai been aware that there was a possible link between Philip's disappearance and convicted paedophile Cooke?

Read more: Philip Cairns mother: I still use the laneway, I still wonder about the schoolbag

One informed source told the Sunday Independent that in 2012, Rathfarnham gardai requested the file on the criminal investigation into Cooke's sexual abuse of children from the archives because someone had come forward with information about a bag being dropped in the laneway.

Could Cooke have been interviewed sooner when he was still in good health, rather than weak and on his death bed? There are other questions. If Cooke knew Philip, then how did they meet? Had Cooke been grooming Philip? Had Philip visited Radio Dublin before, unbeknownst to his family?

From a number of haunting interviews with Philip's mother, Alice, last week, it seems clear that no one in Philip's family had ever heard him mention Cooke or expressing an interest in Radio Dublin.

"We always knew where Philip was until the day he disappeared. He always came straight home from school..." she told RTE. "Unless Eamon Cooke picked up Philip on the day, I don't think he had any communication with him at all before that... whatever happened with Philip, it happened on the day."

She now believes that he was killed on the day he disappeared. Gardai are already investigating possible spots where Cooke could have dumped Philip's body. Five properties have been earmarked for searches.

Last Thursday, detectives began walking a field in the foothills of the Dublin Mountains where Cooke erected a transmitter for his pirate radio station and where he kept a 40ft container underground.

The bunker was already searched in the early 2000s by detectives who investigated Cooke for child abuse. According to one source, he used the bunker for his radio paraphernalia but detectives searched it for the indecent photographs and videos he took of the children he was abusing. They also searched a house he owned in Aclare, Sligo, where he used to go on holidays, and the house in Clondalkin. He had sold the house on Sarsfield Road which was later demolished and replaced with an apartment block. They found nothing of value to their investigation.

They took Cooke's computers but gardai were unable to crack the access code to examine their contents. The computers were subsequently returned to Cooke and if they have not been destroyed, could provide another avenue of potential evidence.

Detectives will be revisiting all of Cooke's old hunting grounds in the coming days and weeks. They plan to interview all of his victims, the children who hung out at his radio station and the DJs who worked there unaware of his paedophile crimes.

As part of the abuse probe in the late 1990s, detectives interviewed "five or six" people who were abused by Cooke in the mid-1980s - at the same time Philip disappeared. At the time, none of them mentioned Philip. But detectives will no doubt be keen to trace them and reinterview them again.

Read more: Philip Cairns case: A disappearance still hanging over us 30 years on

Some commentators are sceptical about Cooke's link to Philip's disappearance. Retired detective garda Gerry O'Carroll told Joe Duffy's Liveline show on RTE that he had "serious questions".

He wondered how Philip "materialised" from Ballyroan Road into the studio in Inchicore. And he wondered how a young girl of nine, who was an abused child herself, could have witnessed what went on "without someone seeing".

Others pointed out Cooke's apparent preference for "young girls".

The abuse investigation has shown that Cooke was an indiscriminate abuser of both boys and girls; and that he abused them in his upstairs rooms, probably as DJs and other station staff - oblivious to Cooke's crimes - went about their business in the radio station downstairs.

He assiduously groomed children and then manipulated and intimidated them into silence over the horrific serious sexual assaults he subjected them to. He was "vicious" and also violent. His past convictions included shooting with intent, possession of firearms and malicious damage. He was capable of burning down the house of one of his victim's boyfriends - he was convicted of the offence two days before Philip disappeared in October 1986 and received a suspended sentence for it.

His sordid crimes do not make Cooke a killer, but they show what he is capable of. James Dillon, the DJ whose evidence later helped convict Cooke of abuse, said: "I think he is probably one of the most evil people I ever met in my life and I think that he is capable of anything. If you looked into his eyes, it was just evil that you saw."

Sunday Independent

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