Abigail Rieley

Writer and Author

Tag: Eamon Cooke

Remembering a monster

Over the past few days this post has been getting a lot of traffic. Written back in 2009, it was my musing on how “Captain” Eamon Cooke, pirate radio legend and notorious paedophile, was still allowed his legendary status by some in the radio industry. Over the years the post has gathered quite a few comments, including from some of those who worked at Radio Dublin and others closely connected with Cooke himself. It’s hardly surprising given Cooke’s death last week and the astonishing news that he may well have been responsible for one of the most famous child disappearances in Dublin, that of 13-year-old Philip Cairns in October 1986.

But perhaps astonishing is the wrong word to use here. When I first read the initial RTE report on Saturday my gut instinct was that the story was credible, though unlikely to be ever proven. Cooke’s 2007 trial was one of the first sex cases I covered in the Dublin courts and gave me an opportunity to watch the monster at close quarters. It was not the first time Cooke had been on trial. He was convicted of a string of sexual offences against 4 victims in 2003 and sentenced to 10 years in jail but was released 3 years later in 2006 on a legal technicality. Cooke was one of those who benefitted from the existing Irish law on statutory rape being ruled unconstitutional as it did not allow for a defence of honest mistake about the victim’s age. The 2007 went ahead with 2 of the original complainants and should have only lasted a week or two.

Cooke grandstanded the whole way through the trial. It took place in one of the smaller courtrooms upstairs in the Four Courts, a tiny, airless room, especially on a warm summer’s day. Everyone found it airless but Cooke played up the elderly infirm little old man. He insisted on having one of the prison staff bring him a jug of water, while one of his victim’s took the stand. Evidence that should have taken a day or less to give was dragged out over days as he insisted on regular breaks. A trial that should, on the evidence, have taken no more than two weeks, dragged on for a month. I would see the two women who were the chief prosecution victims in the pub across the road from the courthouse at lunchtime every day. I found it more difficult than I ever have to keep a journalistic objectivity as I had my own reasons to identify with the evidence they gave. The same reasons that eventually made me stop covering those kinds of trials (nothing to do with Cooke – but one shrivelled, manipulative psychopath is much like another).

Sentencing Cooke, Ms Justice Maureen Clark, expressed a wish to make all his sentences consecutive rather than concurrent, as she had to under Irish law. Cooke was found guilty on 42 counts which would all have . If the sentences had run consecutively he would have faced a sentence of decades rather than the 10 years he received. With someone like Cooke, who it would be no exaggeration to describe as Ireland’s Jimmy Savile, such a sentence would have surely represented justice – but simply wasn’t possible under Irish law.

I had wanted to cover the trial though – call it curiosity. Anyone who’d worked in Irish radio knew about Captain Cooke. Back in the days of the pirate radio stations, before commercial licences were finally awarded in the late 80s, Radio Dublin was one of the first and one of the biggest. Cooke was a larger than life character but one that there were always stories about. A lot of people, judging by the stories you’d hear in radio circles when I started in the 90s, knew that there was something predatory about Cooke. It was well known that he had a nasty violent streak.

I’ve seen comments on social media the past few days about the need for caution with a case like this. We all know Cooke was a monster but surely he’s too convenient a hook to hang this on? What if the real culprit is still out there? But my feeling is that it’s a neat fit because it’s the right one. The gardai were obviously convinced by what they’d been told and Cooke was that much of a monster.

I’m not just basing that on the evidence I heard or a few weeks in an overly stuffy courtroom. Before I started working in the courts I had come across Cooke in another capacity. I had taken a break from journalism to focus on writing and was doing contract jobs in the meantime. I spent several months working for the All Party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution who’s job it was to take submissions to decide where the Constitution needed updating or revising. I was there while they were examining the portion of the constitution that concerns the family – so we were looking at fathers’ rights, the place of the woman in the home, adoptive rights, gay marriage and the definition of the family – all things guaranteed to get a spirited response from the various sides. It was a major part of my job to go through the submissions received each day, copy and file them and write up a summary for the committee. I would flag major submissions on both sides and the best reasoned individual submissions were brought to notice.

One day a submission came in from Eamon Cooke. I recognised the name at once as I’d been following his 2003 trial, and noted that the letter was posted from prison (either Arbour Hill or Wheatfield I think, but I forget). Cooke argued passionately for the rights of fathers to have access to their children. He spoke of his own situation and how, since he had gone to prison, he was finding it difficult to see his children (I know he had 11 children aged between 4 and 18 at his 2007 trial). He argued for the rights of fathers in prison. He talked about custody issues. He neglected to mention the fact that the reason he was in prison was for sexually abusing children. One of my colleagues read the submission as well and not recognising the sender, wanted to make sure the politicians saw it. I made sure the submission had a note on it about Cooke’s conviction and the inadvisability of using it as grounds for any findings. If I had recognised the name, any other journalist would have done the same. I was shocked by how brazen Cooke was but it really fits with everything else I’ve learnt about him over the years. It would also fit with the kind of psyche who would hide a murder for 30 years and refuse to say where the body was even on his death bed.

I presume that submission is still in a file somewhere, but since the Committee was disbanded long ago goodness knows where you’d find it. I was told at the time, when I asked about access to the submissions in the future, that once the report was published the submissions were a matter of public record. This isn’t my field anymore, but given the recent revelations I thought I’d add this.

Cooke was a monster. He was uncovered as a monster many years ago but as with any prolific, narcissistic predator, there were many silent, ignored victims. Knowing a dark truth about someone who puts a carefully crafted face to the world can be a very lonely place to be. There’s no way of knowing, until that truth comes out, if you are alone or one of many – and men like that guard their reputations. In 2009, when Cooke appealed his 2007 sentence he complained that the allegations against him were simply to harm his reputation. When Radio Dublin staff walked out in 1978 and left the station off air while Cooke was in Spain (according to evidence given during his 2007 trial, with the winner of the competition for the holiday, a 15 or 16-year-old girl) he took to the airwaves on his return to refute allegations of child abuse. If you’ve a strong stomach you can hear part of that broadcast in this clip which someone uploaded to Youtube after that trial.

I hope that for Philip Cairns’ family and Cooke’s many victims there is some peace but men like Cooke don’t leave peace in their wake, they leave shattered lives. A truly evil man has died and, if it is true about Philip Cairns, he kept his power to the end. That sort always do.

Pirates and Paedophiles

I went to see The Boat that Rocked in the cinema today.  It brought back a lot of fond memories.  I started out in radio before moving to print.  I met the husband when we were both working in Anna Livia FM, a special interest station that used to be based on Grafton Street.  I’ve fond memories of working in conditions that would have given a health and safety inspector palpitations – it was always more fun than working in commercial stations.

I never worked for a pirate but you can’t work in radio without meeting an awful lot of people who did. The nostalgia would be rife on late night shifts or Sunday afternoons when the phones weren’t hopping and the pre records were longer.  Here in Ireland pirate radio had it’s heyday for much longer than the UK.  Commercial radio didn’t kick off here until the late 80s so pirate radio had a much higher profile for a lot longer.

I didn’t move to Dublin until 1991 so I missed the glory days of stations like Sunshine, Radio Nova or Q102 (a different operation to the station of that name currently broadcasting although there are some overlaps).  By the time I moved up legal stations like FM104 and 98FM had started broadcasting and the pirates were no more.  I know several people who get decidedly misty eyed when talking about Sunshine’s last night on air.

These days though, my mind tends to jump in one direction when the subject of pirate radio comes up.  One of the drawbacks of doing the court beat is that sometimes what you see down there pushes in front of nicer memories, becoming a reference point to start from even if you’re not consciously dwelling on the details of any one trial.  Some cases just lodge there.  There’s not a lot you can do about it.  The trial of the founder of Radio Dublin (one of, if not the oldest pirate in Dublin) stuck more than most.

Eamonn “Captain” Cooke was a larger than life figure the Dublin radio scene as far back as the mid 1960s.  He ran the station out of his house in Inchicore and weathered garda raids and defections.  The one thing the station couldn’t survive was the Captain’s incarceration for the sexual assault of several underage girls.

One of the first big trials I covered was his second trial after he had been released on a legal technicality.  Two of the four women involved in the first trial had to go through the evidence for a second time.  Over four tedious weeks in the Winter of 2007 the trial stuttered to a conclusion, forced to delay for weeks due to the claims of ill health from the man the local children called the “Cookie Monster”.

We were told how he brought children round to the house to abuse them. The sheer arrogance of the man was absolutely staggering.  To this day he says the allegations are spiteful smears on his good name…despite being twice convicted.

These days you will still hear people talking nostalgically about “Captain” Cooke.  You will even find articles like this one knocking about on-line, calling Cooke “a caring man…who loves children”.  There seems to be an attitude in certain quarters that the music was all that was important.  It didn’t really matter that the man in who’s house the station broadcasted from liked them well before puberty.

It’s a little like saying Hitler was a nice bloke as long as you didn’t bring up the politics!

Eamonn Cooke was convicted for being a predatory paedophile who groomed children as young as 7 for abuse.  The fact that he could be charming or good company outside that doesn’t make it any better.  Once again, I’m not saying that the DJs who worked in Radio Dublin acted improperly but the rumours were around for years.  I had heard stories about Eamonn Cooke’s fondness for underage skirt long before he was arrested.  He’s not a nice man and should have been brought to justice years sooner.  The incidents mentioned in court happened in the mid 1970s.  Maybe we’re just not very good at shopping people who like abusing children in this country.

If you’re reading this and you worked in Radio Dublin with Cooke and have a problem with what I’m saying here please say so.  I sat through all that trial and as I said the details have stuck with me, two years later.  But on certain message boards online he’s talked about as a pirate hero with an unfortunate weakness.  That I don’t understand.

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