20 years of ‘intolerable grief’ over murdered teen

Jonathan Cairns was just 18 when he was brutally beaten to death in Ballykelly, Co Londonderry in 1999. Credit: Family photo

The family of 18-year-old Jonathan Cairns have had to live with intolerable grief in not knowing why he was murdered and buried in a shallow grave in Ballykelly 20 years ago.

“It’s been 20 years since our son was murdered,” Jonathan’s father Raymond said.

“Twenty years of living each day without our lovely son, 20 years of living without answers and without justice.

“Jonathan was 18 when he died, he should now be 38 – maybe with kids of his own. We think about him every day. He was always smiling, always happy.

“All of his family loved him and miss him so much.”

The people who did this took our son away from us and we don’t know why.

Raymond Cairns, Jonathan’s dad

Jonathan was making his way home from a night out in the early hours of Sunday 25 April 1999 when he was attacked and badly beaten.

His body was found later that day in a shallow grave in Loughermore Forest, not far from his home.

His bloodstained clothes were also discovered in the grounds of Glasvey Special School.

One 49-year-old man was sentenced in 2002 to five years in jail for perverting the course of justice, but no one has yet been convicted of Jonathan’s murder.

On the 20th anniversary of his death, police are conducting fresh searches in the Ballykelly area of Co Londonderry and handing out leaflets to try to jog people’s memories.

A mobile police station will also be open until 7pm in Ballykelly village, at the junction between Plantation Road and Main Street, for anyone who wishes to speak to police.

The investigation into Jonathan’s murder has already involved:

  • the identification of more than 2,500 witnesses

  • taking statements from 872 people

  • more than 20 searches

The officer leading the investigation, PSNI Detective Inspector Adrian Brown, said: “For 20 years, Jonathan’s family and friends have suffered intolerable grief.

“Their son died a violent death as a result of a vicious beating and we understand their desire to see justice done.

“We are committed to doing all in our power to apprehend those involved in this brutal incident which went far beyond a drunken assault.”

I believe Jonathan’s killer or killers were local to the area and they may have known Jonathan. I also believe that people within the Ballykelly community have information that could help solve this case.

DI Adrian Brown, PSNI

DI Brown added: “I appreciate that this happened a long time ago, but I would appeal to people to think back to the Saturday night and Sunday morning of 24-25 April 1999.

“If you were in the Clooney Road/Loughermore Road/Caman Park areas of Ballykelly between 1.30am and 9am on Sunday 25 April and haven’t spoken to us, please speak to us.”

He added: “Two men were seen in the area where Jonathan was assaulted on the Loughermore Road in the early hours of Sunday 25 April 1999.

“They have never come forward to speak to police despite numerous appeals - which leads me to believe they were involved in the murder.

“They were in their early 20s, about 5ft 10ins tall, and one of them might have had auburn hair.”

DI Brown said: “Some people were not prepared to come forward at the time for a variety of reasons but we are asking people to search their conscience and think again.

“Circumstances and loyalties may have changed over years and it is never too late to do the right thing.

“Anyone with information should call detectives on 101. Or, if someone would prefer to provide information without giving their details, they can contact the independent charity Crimestoppers and speak to them anonymously on 0800 555 111.”