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."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions