Monday 16 December 2019

'These fresh clues could give new hope to families of other victims'

Detective Sergeant Tom Doyle of Rathfarnham Garda Station with the schoolbag belonging to Philip Cairns in a photo from October of last year. Photo: Damien Eagers
Detective Sergeant Tom Doyle of Rathfarnham Garda Station with the schoolbag belonging to Philip Cairns in a photo from October of last year. Photo: Damien Eagers
Tom Brady

Tom Brady

The latest developments in the 30-year-old Philip Cairns case will bring renewed hopes to the families of other young victims who are missing and presumed murdered.

Although it was the brave decision of a couple of women to step forward and speak to investigating gardai that have opened up new lines of inquiry in this case, it is the huge advancements in forensic technology that could prove crucial.

Forensic developments were the key to unlocking the mystery of who killed Phyllis Murphy, the 23-year-old Kildare woman who disappeared while waiting for a bus home at a stop in Newbridge, Co Kildare, after buying presents for family and friends three days before Christmas in 1979 and whose body was discovered the following month in the Wicklow mountains.

During the initial inquiries, gardai drew up a list of 600 names of persons of interest. Among them was John Crerar, who was interviewed but cleared by a blood test.

For 20 years, the mystery remained unsolved. But advances in forensic science prompted a dedicated Garda officer, Det Inspr Brendan McArdle, to seek permission for funding to re-examine the samples taken earlier and new tests were carried out at laboratories here and in Britain.

A DNA fingerprint is created after separating fragments of DNA by a biochemical technique and it is based on the theory that everybody has an unique genetic make-up, with a profile drawn from something as small as a hair sample.

The results led gardai back to Crerar, and a man who had previously given an alibi to the suspect withdrew his statement, allowing Crerar to be charged and convicted in the courts.

A number of DNA profiles have been found on Philip Cairns' schoolbag, which was found in a laneway near his home in Rathfarnham, south Dublin, six days after his disappearance.

Gardai now believe, from recent interviews with two women who came forward last month and made statements to investigators, that one or more children known to disc jockey and convicted paedophile 'Captain' Eamon Cooke were forced by him to bring the schoolbag to the laneway and dump it there, setting off a false trail.

Officers have stated that the bag is a crucial piece of evidence in the case and DNA testing could help establish the identity of those who dumped it, or even directly link the murderer to the case.

This was partly the reason for this week's latest appeal for help from the gardai, who are also hoping that the decision of the two women to make statements now following the death of Eamon Cooke may encourage others with knowledge of the events surrounding Philip Cairns' disappearance and death, to contact them, either directly or indirectly.

That brave decision may also result in witnesses in other unsolved murder probes producing evidence they now feel they can disclose because of changes in circumstances over the intervening years.

There have been other examples of reluctant witnesses creating a breakthrough for investigators, particularly in cases re-examined by the Garda's cold case unit.

And families of victims such as Raonaid Murray, Deirdre Jacob, Fiona Pender, Jo Jo Dullard, Annie McCarrick, Ciara Breen, Fiona Sinnott, among others, will be hoping that they, along with Alice Cairns, can finally experience closure to their long-enduring ordeals.

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