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Farm labourer guilty of four shotgun killings

A man who murdered two couples with a sawn-off shotgun was jailed for life today after evading justice for more than 25 years.

John Cooper, 66, blasted his victims point blank in four merciless killings done for almost no financial gain.

The murders were carried out in the 1980s close to the Milford Haven small-holding, in west Wales, where he lived.

High Court judge Mr Justice John Griffith Williams gave Cooper four life sentences today at Swansea Crown Court.

But a defiant Cooper repeatedly over-shouted the judge with angry claims that vital evidence had been kept from the jury.

Family and friends of Cooper who apparently back his claims of innocence stormed out of court before the judge passed sentence.

Cooper went on to dismiss the judge's words as "utter rubbish" warning the truth would be released via the internet.

His anger was in contrast to the family and friends of the farm labourer's victims who sat in court silently listening to his shouts.

The jury too appeared shocked by the series of increasingly angry outbursts.

It also found him guilty of raping a teenage schoolgirl and sexually assaulting another in a field near Milford Haven in March 1996.

The girls, among of group of five including three boys, were all traumatised by a balaclava-clad Cooper armed with a shotgun.

He was also found guilty of five attempted robberies all connected to that attack.

Cooper murdered millionaire farmer Richard Thomas, 58, and his sister Helen, 54, at their burnt-out Pembrokeshire mansion in December 1985.

He murdered tourists Peter Dixon, 51, and wife Gwenda, 52, on the final day of their holiday four years later.

The couple, from Oxfordshire, were attacked as they walked along a coastal path near Little Haven, Pembrokeshire, in June 1989.

Both couples died after being blasted at close range with a shotgun.

At one point there was speculation the Dixons died because they stumbled on a cache of IRA weapons.

But all speculation was finally laid to rest today when Cooper was found guilty on all counts after a nine-week trial.

The killing of the Thomases is thought to have been a failed burglary of what Cooper believed was an empty property.

Helen Thomas is thought to have recognised the voice of nearby neighbour Cooper and had to die.

Her brother arrived home while he was still there and had to die as well. Cooper's reward for the killing was described as "negligible" in court.

In the case of the Dixons the motive behind the attack appears to have been robbery. He forced Mr Dixon to reveal the Pin of his bank card.

He then killed the couple and hid their bodies to allow himself time to use the card. Again the sums involved were small.

The judge told him: "The murders were of such evil wickedness that the mandatory sentence of life will mean just that."

He added: "I am confident that you will never express any remorse and so help the victims come to terms with their loss.

"You are a dangerous man who is a highly organised predatory burglar whose hallmarks were balaclava, gloves and shotgun.

"Each of your offences were well planned and so it was that you evaded arrest for so long.

"Indeed, but for the advances of forensic science, you may well have never been brought to justice."

Cooper operated from a rented small holding which the trial heard was at "the epicentre" of the murders and burglaries plaguing the area.

He hid his comings and goings by creating trails between cross country locations by cutting small holes in fences between adjoining fields.

It meant he could pass at night unnoticed and commit burglaries, and murder the Thomases less than a mile from his property.

After the verdict Tim Dixon, the son of the murdered couple, read out a joint statement from the families of all Cooper's victims.

He said: "Whilst this cannot take away our loss and grief, and the pain of the other people touched by his violence, we can have some closure now the person responsible for these terrible atrocities has been served justice."

Detective Chief Superintendent Steve Wilkins, who headed the cold case inquiry, later dismissed any idea of Cooper's innocence.

"Following a court appearance in 2009, John Cooper shouted to the communities of Wales not to judge him until the evidence had been heard," he said.

"Over the last nine weeks, 12 people from that community have listened to all the evidence and decided that he is guilty. I believe this is the right decision.

"John Cooper is a very dangerous and evil man, who for pitiful gain, murdered four people and later subjected five children to a terrible attack.

"He will now spend the rest of his life in prison."