Abigail Rieley

Writer and Author

Tag: Radio

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.

Methinks They do Protest Too Much

I’ve been having a bit of a contentious time on Twitter lately. It can be like that sometimes and mostly lately I’ve been steering clear. I’m tired of having the same argument. It’s the argument that pops up with depressing regularity whenever someone raises the issue of violence against women. It usually comes when someone has said that this violence is a serious societal problem that we all need to do something about. Yesterday it came up because of this piece in the Irish Times. In it Una Mullally made the point that perhaps we shouldn’t be telling women not to get themselves raped and murdered, perhaps we should be telling men not to be harming women.

Well it didn’t take long for the howling and gnashing of teeth to begin. First they started in the comments below the article, then the row took to Twitter, as these things tend to do. One after another men came forward with their chests puffed out, declaiming that this was a gross generalisation. All men were not rapists and murderers. Sexism! Misandry! What about the Menz!

It’s about the third time this week something like this has kicked off. As I said, on Twitter things kick off which the regularity of an explosions in a fireworks factory made of sawdust. Take your eye off the ball for a moment and Whoosh! I’m tired of hearing the same arguments, receiving the same barrage of hectoring points from some bloke who wants to show me the error of my ways for believing in this divisive nonsense. I’ve had enough.

It’s getting increasingly hard to avoid that hectoring response. If ,as a woman, you identify yourself online as a feminist or are definite in your views there will be invariably be someone waiting in the wings who wants to tell you how wrong you are. While I’m all in favour of freedom of speech and while I’ve no problem with lively debate I am sick and tired of trying to make my point to someone who is only interested in getting the last word. This is why I usually lurk Twitter late at night talking about 70s TV. The discussions can get heated there as well but no one tries to shout you down.

There’s a particular type of arguing here that really sets my teeth on edge. It’s not restricted to gender politics either, I’ve encountered the same response when talking about other types of discrimination. The attitude that will invariably be shouted loudest is the one telling me to shut up, telling me that I’m exaggerating the problem, telling me I’ve got it wrong.

Normally I try to calmly reason with them. I try to make them see my point and to demonstrate that their argument is built on a principal of denial. I’m all right Jack. But we come back to the beginning again and again and I really don’t think anyone learns anything.

No if you’re reading this and your fingers are already itching to jump in there to tell me I’m generalising wildly, all men are not like that and I’m just another one of those ranty feminists, let me stop you right here. Chances are we’re not going to agree. Here’s why.

We all look at the world through the lens of our experience. If you go through life and don’t see any of the sharp edges then well done, congratulations, you are charmed. But I’ll tell you now, we’re not looking at the same world. The very glass that makes up the lenses through which we see is fused from different elements. I can’t not see the corners. But I can point them out.

Firstly let’s start with the very, very basics. I’m not a feminist because I hate men. I’m not a feminist because I just want to be argumentative. I’m a feminist because when I look at the world we live in today and see women like me denied education, denied freedom, denied a voice, it makes me very, very angry. Sure, as a white, middle class woman living in Western Europe I’ve got it easy. I come from a culture where I can choose the man I marry, where I can continue my education and where I can vote for a say in how my country is run. I am not forced to sell my body and by and large I’m not marginalised. But that doesn’t mean I don’t see how much easier it is for men to get on in this fine country of ours.

When I worked in radio I often heard that my female voice was just going to irritate listeners. On Irish radio in general two thirds of the voices you will hear belong to men. Women, who lets not forget make up around 50% of the global population, make up only 13% of our elected representative. As a writer I know that my work is likely to be under reviewed and that my book will be more likely to get a softly feminine cover regardless of it’s subject matter because of my gender. I know that while education was never an issue for me it’s not that long since a third level degree was an impossible dream for women. I worked in the criminal courts for over six years and when you’re there on a daily basis you realise that the majority of crimes that pass through the Central Criminal Court are crimes against women. So many sex crimes pass through the courts in Dublin that the papers cover only a fraction. Those crimes, I’m sad to say, tend to be picked for their sensationalism, a pretty victim, a particularly brutal accused. I’ve written about so many of them on this blog. Click on any of the women’s names in the tag cloud and chances are you will find a woman killed by the man who was supposed to love her.

And when I get angry about all this, when I say this is ridiculous and must stop if we are ever going to move forward as a people there will always be those who tell me I am wrong. They will be men. I’ve never had this reaction from a woman.

The problem is that it’s all getting worse. When I was a child in the 70s it was fashionable to give little girls tool sets and little boys dolls. Granted this might have been a vogue in our own leafy suburb but back then I never questioned it. I used to laugh at the boys I played with when they told me I couldn’t play Scalectrix or Meccano because I was a girl. It never for a moment occured to me they had a point. That would be utterly bonkers. No if you go to a toy shop you can tell the aisle that’s meant for girls. While the boys are presented with a kaleidoscope of colours the girls have one option. Pink. Let me get this straight. All little girls do not want to be princesses. I always wanted to be the Prince. He got a horse and a sword and got to do stuff. All the Princess did was lounge around and look pretty.

I could go on and on and on with the examples of how this world is still trying to tell women to stay in the background, to shut up, to look pretty. It might seem like I’m off the point here but it’s all part of the same thing. Good girls are still pretty and mute and passive. Good girls need to be protected. Good girls need to be told when they have worried their pretty little heads about something unnecessary.

Because that’s the crux of it. These men who bristle when a point is made, who are so secure in the fact that they are nice men so we shouldn’t be telling them not to rape, who think that we just misunderstand or didn’t do our research, these men need to stop and listen. It doesn’t matter that you are a nice guy and would never harm a woman. That doesn’t mean that others of your sex would. For time immemorial, women have been told to beware, to watch out for the big bad wolf. We’ve been told to watch what we wear, watch how we speak, watch where we look. We are have the population of the planet but we hold a fraction of the power. It’s not an equal playing field. If your fingers are still itching to butt in just ask yourself why? Is it because you are so unsure of your own position that you can’t see the difference between yourself and the bad men? Is it because you started getting irritated by my words because they were written by a woman who really shouldn’t be this forthright? Is it because you need to look at your own attitudes before getting at mine?

I’ve been fighting my corner for a very long time. I’ll continue to do so for as long as it takes. I do not believe that I am any less capable, any less wise, any less worthy of respect because I was born a particular sex. But most of all I don’t see why as a woman I should have to take all the responsibility. Culturally we persist in assuming that men are at the mercy of animal urges. Surely it’s time they shared a little bit of responsibility and showed a bit of respect and a bit of empathy? I’m also confident that any of the lovely blokes that I’ve met, known and loved over the years will read this and not feel victimised. Because those men know that there is a problem and it’s one that we all need to do something about. I can rant until I’m blue in the face but even if every woman on the planet agreed with me we’d only be 50% and an underrepresented 50% at that. We all need to decide that this crap is unacceptable. We need to stop arguing about the bloody details.

Whats in a Hashtag?

When my family first moved to Ireland when I was a teenager I was asked by a neighbour “Do you have prayers in your religion?” That was the first time I ever felt I was on the other side of a fence. Even though I had grown up hearing about sectarian attacks in the North and knew the difference between Cavaliers and Roundheads in the English Civil War it had never occurred to me that the church I had gone to as a child belonged on any side of any fence.  It was a place of bells and smells, somewhere that occasionally held jumble sales and children’s parties, somewhere where my less exciting friends hung out.

By the time we moved to Ireland I had gone off the idea of becoming a nun (a week long fad after watching A Nun’s Story and Black Narcissus in quick succession) and pretty much lost interest in religion as a whole. It’s an interest I never particularly regained.  But as I got used to living in the west of Ireland it was a subject I couldn’t quite leave behind.  It was there when my school was selected. It was there on the doorstep when I moved north to college in Belfast.  It was in the countless  jokes I shared with friends over the years – measuring differentness be it remembered kids’ shows (me Bagpuss & Saturday Swapshop, them Bosco & Wanderly Wagon), pub snacks (me salt & vinegar crisps or dry roasted peanuts, them Tayto or King).  Even though none of us went to any kind of church from one end of the year to the next we all knew which tribe we belonged to for that game at least.

The thing about the religion question was that it always did and always will underline differences.  It builds a them and an us and running under “them” and “us” is usually a current of entitlement. Heirs to the kingdom and all that.  But surely now the kingdom is up to it’s armpits in mortgage arrears and we are all apparently up a proverbial creek without propulsion “them” and “us” should be put aside.

This morning on the Ryan Tubridy Show on RTE’s 2FM there was a light hearted discussion about how to spot an Irish protestant.  As frequently happens these days with light hearted radio discussions it came with a Twitter hashtag.  Everyone had lashings of fun pointing out those differences (including at least one physiological one concerning optical distance).  There was no harm done, no offence taken and no malice meant…well mostly.  Tubridy addressed the negative comments beginning to clutter up the Twitter stream as belonging to a po-faced minority and advised them to turn off and listen to something else.

There it was again, the Them and Us.  They can’t take a joke.

The problem is that perhaps encouraging a large group of people to itemise how they differ from another large group isn’t very funny.  It’s not really something that encourages empathy and understanding.  Pointing and laughing at another peer group wouldn’t be funny if that group was made up of gay men, or black families, or Jews or Muslims.  Everyone knows this.  There would never be a slot on how to spot an Irish Jew or How Good’s Your Gaydar?  We’re all the children of the PC 80s in one way or another.  We are so careful not to offend.

And what was there to offend about the Irish Protestant slot? It was all meant as a bit of a joke.  Why am I even writing about it –I’m not even in the group being (gently) slagged?  The problem is that it encourages Them and Us thinking.  Ireland’s come a long way in terms of tolerance as last weekends Dublin Pride proved.  We no longer send unmarried mothers into slave labour in the Magdalene Laundries or turn round to stare at an African on the street.

But racism and sexism and sectarianism haven’t gone away, you know, and they won’t while Them and Us is the default joke position.  It might mean being a little po-faced once in a while but surely tolerance and empathy are worth the hassle?  There’ll always be forms of tribalism in society, but couldn’t we just leave it on the pitch?  We should be looking for similarities not differences and not pointing and laughing at the other side.

RIP Gerry Ryan

I was sitting in court yesterday listening to the closing speeches in the trial of Sean Keogh and David Curran, which I’m covering for the Sunday Independent. The press bench was fairly full, it usually is as a trial comes to an end and the verdict approaches.

Shortly before 3 o’clock a ripple went through the gathered journalists.  Suddenly people weren’t taking down the particulars of the speeches but instead holding whispered conversations and poring over laptops and mobile phones with feverish intensity.  The barristers continued in full flow to the jury as one by one the journalists got up and left hurriedly.

The speed with which people left their posts was different from the more unhurried reaction when a verdict in another court has come through.  There was an urgency usually reserved for terrorist acts or the deaths of heads of state. Whatever was causing the mass exodus was something of national importance.

What had happened of course was that the news of Gerry Ryan’s death had started filtering through to newsrooms around the capital and those newsrooms were suddenly scrambling every available staff member.  The news first broke on Twitter, I’m not going into the pros and cons of whether those using the social networking site should have broken the news when RTE, Ryan’s employers were holding off to allow for all his family to be notified.  Twitter is the kind of place where it’s impossible to keep a secret, especially one this shocking.

If you’re not familiar with Irish broadcasting, Gerry Ryan was one the genuine stars.  His show on RTE’s 2FM had been one of the biggest shows on Irish radio for over 20 years.  I’d say there are very few people in this country who can honestly say they have never listened to his morning show, whether they tuned in regularly or not.  He was a broadcaster everyone had an opinion of, be it good or bad, but there is no denying the fact that he was well loved by his colleagues and his legion of fans.

Whether you liked his style or not if you’ve ever worked in Irish broadcasting he was one of the ever present big names.  News of his sudden death of a heart attack at the age of 53 was genuinely shocking, His passing leaves a sizeable hole in the 2FM schedule that will be extremely difficult to fill. 

I was lucky enough to go on his show just before my book Devil was released in 2008.  In one of the more bizarre twists of the trial, Gerry Ryan and his producer were both called by Sharon Collins’ defence team to be witnesses in the trial.

The day they were called there was excitement in court as we all arrived in to take our seats, passing by the familiar figure in a huddle with the barristers on the far side of the Round Hall.  His evidence, when it came, was brief and somewhat underwhelming.  It concerned one of the most salacious bits of evidence in the trial. An email found on Sharon Collins’ computer, addressed to the show, had detailed accusations of all kinds of sexual kinkiness from an unnamed partner.  The email was being used by the prosecution as proof of intent but the defence were saying it was just a writing exercise that had never been sent.  Gerry Ryan was called to back this up and confirm that he had never read the steamy contents of that email.

He took the stand and answered a few brief questions and the court sat in rapt attention before he and his producer disappeared to catch a plane to wherever they were due to do the show from the following day.  He gave the trial a little sparkle that day and yet another bizarre twist in one of the oddest trials to have passed through the court.

When Collins and her co accused Essam Eid were sentenced in November 2008, just days before the book was due out, I got a call from the Gerry Ryan Show asking me to come on and talk about the trial.  I was over the moon but it was by far the largest audience I’ve ever spoken to, even with a radio background.

I needn’t have worried. He was a brilliant interviewer. The time flew past and I don’t think I’ve ever laughed so much talking about a Central Criminal Court trial.  He was happy to talk about his own involvement and it was one of the most enjoyable interviews I’ve ever done.

It’s not much of a connection, a brief 15 minutes or so of shared air time, but it’s what came into my head when I heard he’d died.  Irish broadcasting has lost one of it’s most larger than life characters and a consummate pro.  I can only send my condolences to his family and friends and the colleagues who will also feel his loss acutely.  RIP.

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.

Just a Quick One Tonight…

I don’t have long to write here this evening so I’ll keep this brief.  I’m due to be on the Book Show on Near FM this evening via a phone link.  It’s nice to be able to do an interview with a community station.

I worked with Anna Livia FM for years while I was in college and it was fantastic experience.  While I was there I had opportunities to interview all kinds of people and cover all kinds of events.  I even got to go to the Eurovision Song Contest the last time it was in Ireland (back in the days…)

Anyway it’s nice covering all the bases.

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