Saturday 21 April 2018

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

Missing boy's mother Alice hopes for closure - but has seen so many false dawns

Philip Cairns pictured on his Confirmation Day and (inset) his mother Alice Cairns
Philip Cairns pictured on his Confirmation Day and (inset) his mother Alice Cairns
Conor Feehan

Conor Feehan

After three decades of dashed hopes and false dawns, the mother of missing schoolboy Philip Cairns hopes that new leads will finally bring some closure.

However, after 30 years of praying for an answer as to why Philip walked out the front door but never reached school on an October afternoon in 1986, Alice Cairns knows that new inquiries do not always lead to answers.

She says the news that the notorious paedophile and radio DJ Eamon Cooke was involved in her son's disappearance came as a bolt from the blue - and gave her family fresh hope of resolution.

Alice is speaking from her home on the Ballyroan Road in Rathfarnham, Dublin, where she has lived ever since Philip's disappearance on October 23 that year.

Philip Cairns, who went missing 30 years ago.
Philip Cairns, who went missing 30 years ago.

At her kitchen table at the back of the house where Philip was last seen, Alice sits with rosary beads in front of her and a pot of tea on the cooker.

A private woman, she speaks with quiet patience and dignity - yet with a tangible anxiety.

Philip's disappearance shocked the country.

The schoolboy, who was about to turn 14, vanished after leaving his home on the busy road to walk the short journey to Coláiste Éanna secondary school.

Philip's mother Alice, pictured at her home in Rathfarnham, Dublin shortly after her son’s disappearance
Philip's mother Alice, pictured at her home in Rathfarnham, Dublin shortly after her son’s disappearance

Despite intensive searches, no trace of him was ever found until his schoolbag was found dumped in a laneway six days later - minus two schoolbooks.

The lane had been searched earlier, so gardaí know that the bag was dumped there afterwards.

Alice Cairns still uses the laneway as a shortcut to the church and shops. She often wonders about the bag and who put it there as she passes the spot where it was found.

Speaking for the first time since the revelations of the new line of investigation emerged, Alice says she was not aware that Philip knew Eamon Cooke at all.

Eamon Cooke: paedophile
Eamon Cooke: paedophile

"He never mentioned him and as far as I know, he didn't know him. I never saw him (Cooke) before and never heard Philip talk about him," she said.


Thirty years of searching for answers have not dulled her spirit and her faith in both God and the gardaí remains strong.

"Philip was only sort of getting into music but he wouldn't have been that involved that he would be going to radio stations," Alice says.

"He'd hardly ever been in the local record shop. He was just starting secondary school and left here to go back to school. After that, we just don't know still.

"I'm glad the gardaí are following any line of investigation because it shows they are determined to find out what happened. I'm open-minded about it (the Cooke development).

"You're always hoping there will be something, a new lead, but then when it happens, you have more questions.

"I would be concerned that if this new lead didn't amount to anything, then people might still think that the case is kind of closed and they might not come forward with information and then a person who might be really responsible for it (Philip's disappearance) might be more likely to get away."

She reveals that the first hints that there may be a breakthrough in the case of her missing son came several weeks ago.

"The gardaí came to me a number of weeks ago and told us that they were examining a new line of inquiry, but did not mention Eamon Cooke by name.

"They said they were going to interview this person. I think it was a few days later they came back and said that the first day they went to him he said he knew Philip or had been in his company, but then when they went back again a second time he denied knowing him at all.

"They said they weren't sure if there was anything credible in the information or if this man was just leading them on, but they are still investigating it."

Cooke became a suspect back in May when a former victim of his went to a care worker who worked with many of his victims.

This victim said she was around nine years old at the time and had seen a person she thought was Philip in the Radio Dublin studios that Cooke ran in Inchicore.

She claimed that she saw Cooke hit Philip with an implement, that she fainted and when she woke up, she was being driven away by Cooke and there was no sign of Philip.

Gardaí decided they would interview Cooke, the pirate radio DJ who went by the name Captain Cooke and founded Radio Dublin in the 1980s.

He had been found guilty of 42 counts of sexual assault following a trial at the Central Criminal Court in 2007. During his trial, the court heard that his young victims dubbed him the "Cookie Monster".

When gardaí went looking for him in Arbour Hill Prison, they found that he had been transferred to a hospice as he was in failing health.

It is understood that when they interviewed him, he admitted that he knew of Philip and said the boy had been in his radio station.

However, he did not admit to killing Philip and so would not reveal where his body was.

"Philip's disappearance remains under active investigation and they are now looking at two particular aspects that still need to be corroborated," said a source.

"One of these aspects is the DNA that was left on Philip's schoolbag."

It is understood that three DNA profiles have now been obtained from this bag.

The schoolbag that was dumped in the lane not far from the Cairns home is still in the possession of gardaí in Rathfarnham.

The woman who went to gardaí in recent weeks with information told them that Cooke had ordered one of his victims to dump the schoolboy's bag in the lane.

Detective Sergeant Tom Doyle has previously said he believes it could hold forensic and DNA evidence which could be the key to finding out what happened to Philip.

"At the time it (the schoolbag) was found in 1986, DNA profiling was a limited concept," Det Sgt Doyle said in October last year.

"I am convinced that this schoolbag holds the answers as to what happened to Philip."

The missing schoolboy's father, Philip senior, died a number of years ago, before the mystery of his son's disappearance could be solved.

But Alice says that despite the passage of time she, still holds out hope of resolution.

"You always have to have hope," she says.

Irish Independent

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