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."

Alexis Sanchez has completed a £35m move to Arsenal, the club have confirmed
sportGunners complete £35m signing of Barcelona forward
Poor teachers should be fearful of not getting pay rises or losing their job if they fail to perform, Steve Fairclough, headteacher of Abbotsholme School, suggested
voicesChris Sloggett explains why it has become an impossible career path
world cup 2014
Ray Whelan was arrested earlier this week
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
In a minor key: Keira Knightley in the lightweight 'Begin Again'
Arts and Entertainment
Celebrated children’s author Allan Ahlberg, best known for Each Peach Pear Plum
peopleIndian actress known as the 'Grand Old Lady of Bollywood' was 102
Wayne’s estate faces a claim for alleged copyright breaches
newsJohn Wayne's heirs duke it out with university over use of the late film star's nickname
Life and Style
It beggars belief: the homeless and hungry are weary, tortured, ghosts of people – with bodies contorted by imperceptible pain
lifeRough sleepers exist in every city. Hear the stories of those whose luck has run out
Mick Jagger performing at Glastonbury
Life and Style
fashionJ Crew introduces triple zero size to meet the Asia market demand
Santi Cazorla, Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini of Arsenal launch the new Puma Arsenal kits at the Puma Store on Carnaby Street
sportMassive deal worth £150m over the next five years
Arts and Entertainment
Welsh opera singer Katherine Jenkins
musicHolyrood MPs 'staggered' at lack of Scottish artists performing
Life and Style
beautyBelgian fan lands L'Oreal campaign after being spotted at World Cup
Arts and Entertainment
Currently there is nothing to prevent all-male or all-female couples from competing against mixed sex partners at any of the country’s ballroom dancing events
Potential ban on same-sex partners in ballroom dancing competitions amounts to 'illegal discrimination'
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice