Saturday 26 May 2018

'I don't have to be afraid of him' - brave victim who snared evil Cooke haunted by little girl 'I couldn't save'

Anne Kelly testified four times against the DJ now linked to missing Philip Cairns

Anne Kelly waited three weeks for Eamon Cooke, inset, to die
Anne Kelly waited three weeks for Eamon Cooke, inset, to die
Freedom: Anne Kelly, who was abused by Radio Dublin’s Eamon Cooke, says she is no longer afraid to speak out now that the DJ is dead. Since his death, new evidence linking him to the disappearance of schoolboy Philip Cairns has emerged. Photo: Tony Gavin
Maeve Sheehan

Maeve Sheehan

Anne Kelly waited three weeks for Eamon Cooke to die.

Ever since she got the phone call in May to say the convicted paedophile had checked out of prison and into a hospice, she couldn't quite believe that he was on the way out. She even rang the hospice to confirm it for herself.

A kindly woman took her call. "I said, 'You don't need to know who I am, but can you tell me if Eamon Cooke is still alive?' She said yes. I said, 'Are you certain he is not going to walk out of that hospice?' Because you still have the underlying fear that he is pulling some game. She said, 'I'm certain'... So I just waited. I kept thinking, 'I can't believe he is going to actually be gone.'"

Cooke died on June 4. Anne had planned to spend the day he died at home in Wicklow, relaxing, breathing, "feeling the freedom", as she put it. Instead she was told that same morning the disturbing news that gardai were investigating Cooke for the disappearance of missing schoolboy Philip Cairns, who vanished without trace on his way back to school in October 1986.

She was shocked, but not surprised. Cooke, a television repair man turned pirate radio station operator, plucked children from his south Dublin neighbourhood of Inchicore and abused them.

Anne was one of them. He destroyed her childhood but not her spirit. She reported him to the guards when she was 18, to no avail. She smashed up his car when she was 21. She has faced down Cooke four times in court.

Eamon Cooke
Eamon Cooke

With Cooke's death, Anne has taken another brave step with the decision to waive her anonymity and speak publicly for the first time about how the paedophile was brought to book by the children whose lives he blighted.

She has been encouraged by friends. "They feel that keeping my anonymity at this stage will be heavier for me somehow, will push me down if I don't break out now that he is dead.

"So I can say, okay, I'm not afraid anymore. I don't have to be afraid. I don't have to be afraid of him attacking me through the law, or through whatever way.

"I can speak. I don't have to be afraid for my daughters, because they are the fears you have," she says.

Philip Cairns
Philip Cairns

So sitting in the gracious surroundings of a Wicklow hotel, this petite and elegant woman recounts the dark years of her childhood in chilling detail, but also how she has worked to overcome them.

For all the uncertainty, despair and devastation that Cooke still causes, even in death, she says that people can at least take heart that he spent the last years of his life in jail.

"Even if it transpires that Eamon Cooke was the killer of Philip Cairns, there has to be an opening for us all to take heart that it was because of the pure weight of personal convictions within everybody involved in that case - all of the victims, the gardai, the legal teams, the dozens of people on the juries - we can all take heart that for 13 years...this man was off our streets," she says.

"Those 13 years saved hundreds of boys and girls having their whole futures distorted by him. He would not have stopped and he was getting more and more open - raping in McDonald's and raping in public loos. He could do it anywhere and he did."

Anne's evidence was central. "When Cooke died, my mum told me she was proud of me, that she was proud of what I had done, and that she didn't think I knew that, and she would love for me to accept that it was okay, that I had done something good," she says.

Anne was a dark-haired girl with ringlets, the youngest of four children living in a terraced house in Inchicore.

One day when she was seven, she and her childhood friend noticed an enticing "child-sized" door swinging open in a neighbour's garage and unwittingly entered the repulsive world of Eamon Cooke. There they played with the old televisions and telephones strewn around inside and when Cooke discovered them, rather than the expected admonishment, he told them to come back whenever they wanted.

In a memoir, which she has never published, she recalls how a cigarette hung permanently from the side of his mouth, his nicotine-stained fingers and nails "packed with dirt". His shirt, jumper and jacket were always filthy and stank of body odour.

He played the long game. He lured children from the garage to his house with games and sweets. His wife - his second - never seemed to be around.

The abuse began gradually but became severe over time; first touching Anne and her friend, then exposing himself, and then bringing them to his bedroom naked.

One day, when she was 10, he called Anne to his house and gave her a banana. The next thing she remembered is leaving his house, feeling extremely sore, unwell and confused. Later, at home, she passed blood. He intimidated children into silence by continually threatening that they would be sent to a children's home if their parents found out.

The abuse stopped when Anne was 10. But the damage was done. Her education suffered, she was angry, she self-harmed and she drank. All the while, Cooke remained a malevolent presence, driving around in his Radio Dublin Jag, very often with children in the passenger seat.

Anne didn't tell her parents until she was 18, only then when the mother of another of Cooke's victims encouraged her.

Her father immediately booked her into the Rape Crisis Centre. But it was the mid-1980s and there was no talk at that time of reporting him to gardai.

Anne went to Kilmainham garda station off her own bat, with a friend. "I sat in a room, told them what Eamon Cooke was, told them he had abused me as a child."

Weeks later, Cooke showed up at the little grocery shop where she worked. She reached for a knife and told him to get out. The next time he stopped his Jaguar outside the shop, a girl of six in the passenger seat whom he sent in for cigarettes. He grinned "sickeningly" at Anne. "For years that girl haunted me," she wrote in her memoir.

Anne heard nothing more from gardai about her complaint. Three years later, she took matters into her own hands when she read a report that Radio Dublin was opening a "Child-Line".

"I was disgusted," she says. That night, she "got sloshed". In the early hours of the morning, she went home, picked up some knives and went around to Radio Dublin studio.

A boy aged seven or eight answered the door. When Cooke appeared, she lunged at him. He slammed the door, and hid behind it. She tried to kick it in and then smashed boulders on his Jag. Her mother, unknown to her, had followed her to Cooke's. Cooke punched her to the ground and ran inside, and called the guards.

Anne and her mother were arrested that night, while Cooke hid in his radio studio. Cooke ensured that they were charged.

Anne remembers the shame of standing in court alongside her mother, her father standing beside them. Days after that, she was packed off to London to stay with her older sister. As she puts it, she was "exiled".

"Maybe it was for my own protection," she says now. "You don't take on a man like Cooke in that way."

She returned home for the court case. Cooke didn't show up to any of the court proceedings. Perhaps he thought the better of a public face-off with the angry young woman enraged that he destroyed her childhood. The case against Anne and her mother was dismissed.

Anne did not see Eamon Cooke again for more than 10 years. By then she had a job, she had her own home, was studying for a law degree, and had the first of her two daughters. In January of 2000, the past came flooding back when Gardai phoned to say they were investigating Eamon Cooke and asked her to make a statement.

Anne rang her parents. "My dad said 'go for it, it's been a long time coming for that bastard'."

Read more: Predator Eamon Cooke 'used popular DJs to lure victims to his studio'

Read more: Cooke preyed on boys as well as girls

Cooke was charged with abusing Anne, her childhood friend, and four other women. He mounted every legal block he could and by the time his case went for trial, only four of the six women were allowed to testify against him.

He was convicted in 2002 but was released in 2006, after appealing successfully on a point of law. He was back in jail in 2007, following a retrial, having received a 10-year prison sentence.

Throughout those years of legal battles, Anne was called on to give her evidence again, and again and again. Her evidence helped to put Cooke in jail, but she, along with the other brave women who stood up to Cooke, paid a heavy personal price.

"For somebody in the box, a victim of sexual abuse, all you have on you are pairs of eyes. It is a really difficult thing to do. It's like your skin is flayed off you. That's how raw it is," she says. "You are literally skinned alive by a savage legal system."

At the end of the long ordeal, the legal system turned, and not just victims but society got justice.

For the many Cooke victims who did not come forward, those who with Cooke's death will not get "legal justice", Anne says: "There is justice available for them on a personal level. The justice for us is a return to our proper place of joy in the world, not what we had to endure with him."

Anne was 18 when Philip Cairns disappeared in 1986. She can shed no light on reports that one of Cooke's victims claims the paedophile was responsible.

"Knowing Cooke as we did, and knowing his nature, and knowing about his bunkers and his underground places, my imagination has always gone there. My imagination with Cooke has always gone as far as child murder... because that was his capability," she says.

"We heard a lot of stuff even just as sitting ducks in that courtroom. The stuff about his bunker and his fireman's pole we had heard about previously, but the detail came out in court.

"We knew that threats of death had been made around that bunker - 'if you tell, this is where I'll kill you, no one will know' - to other victims."

Anne's thoughts are now with Philip's mother, Alice. "What I find distressing is that at the moment she has nothing to take heart in because there has been no resolution. Please God she can take heart that if it is him at least her son's killer was locked up for 13 years."

Sunday Independent

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News