'Cooke link a bolt from the blue... but it gives me hope' - Philip's mum
The mother of missing Dublin schoolboy Philip Cairns hopes fresh leads that notorious paedophile Eamon Cooke may have been involved in her son's disappearance will end of the 30-year mystery.
Even after all this time, Alice says she still holds out hope of resolution.
"You always have to have hope," she told the Herald from her home in Dublin.
However, she has seen false dawns in the past where new leads have led to digs and excavations, but her son remains missing.
Speaking to the Herald from her home on Ballyroan Road in Rathfarnham, Alice said news that Cooke, who died in recent weeks aged 79, was to be interviewed, came as a bolt from the blue and gave her family hope of a resolution.
However, after three decades of praying for an answer as to why Philip walked out the front door but never got to his school on an October afternoon in 1986, Alice also knows that new enquiries do not always lead to answers.
Philip, who was due to turn 14, vanished after leaving his home on the busy road to walk the short journey to Colaiste Eanna secondary school.
Despite intensive searches, no trace of him was ever found.
His schoolbag was found dumped in a laneway six days later, minus two school books.
The lane had been searched earlier and gardai know the bag was dumped there afterwards.
Thirty years on, Alice spoke for the first time about how the latest developments unfolded.
"The gardai 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," she said.
"They said they were going to interview this person, and 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," she added.
Cooke became a suspect when a former victim of his went to a care worker in May 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 she saw Cooke hit Philip with an implement and that she had fainted, and when she woke up she was being driven away by Cooke and there was no sign of Philip.
Gardai 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 his young victims dubbed him the 'Cookie Monster'.
When gardai 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 he said he had been in his radio station, but did not admit to killing him and did not reveal where Philip's 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 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 gardai in Rathfarnham, and Det Sgt Tom Doyle has previously told the Herald that he believes it could hold forensic and DNA evidence which could be the key to finding out what happened to the teen.
The woman who went to gardai in recent weeks with information told them Cooke that had ordered one of his victims to dump the bag in the lane, and it is unclear if gardai have any immediate plans to analyse the bag again to establish if that could be proven.
Alice Cairns has told the Herald she still uses the laneway as a short cut to the church and shops, and often wonders about the bag and who put it there as she passes the spot where it was found.
Alice said she is not aware that Philip knew Cooke at all.
"He never mentioned him and as far as I know he didn't know him. I never saw him before and never heard Philip talk about him," she said.
At her quiet kitchen table at the back of the house where Philip was last seen on October 23, 1986, Alice sat with rosary beads in front of her and a pot of tea on a low heat on the cooker.
A private woman, she spoke with patience, dignity and a quiet anxiousness.
Thirty years of searching for answers have not dulled her spirit, and her faith in God and the gardai 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 said.
"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 gardai 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)," she added.
"You're always hoping there will be something, a new lead, but then when it happens you have more questions," she said.
"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.
"Then a person who might be really responsible for it [Philip's disappearance] might be more likely to get away," Alice added.
Philip's father, Philip senior, died a number of years ago before the mystery of his son's vanishing could be solved.