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."

Jacqueline Bisset has claimed that young women today are obsessed with being 'hot', rather than 'charming', 'romantic' or 'beautiful'
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham
booksLena Dunham's memoirs - written at the age of 28 - are honest to the point of making you squirm
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey
tvDownton Abbey review: It's six months since we last caught up with the Crawley clan
Frank Lampard and his non-celebration
premier leagueManchester City vs Chelsea match report from the Etihad Stadium
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
techNew app offers 'PG alternative' to dating services like Tinder
Greg Dyke insists he will not resign as Football Association chairman after receiving a watch worth more than £16,000 but has called for an end to the culture of gifts being given to football officials
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden sings his heart out in his second audition
tvX Factor: How did the Jakes - and Charlie Martinez - fare?
premier league
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave crime series
Mario Balotelli celebrates his first Liverpool goal
premier leagueLiverpool striker expressed his opinion about the 5-3 thriller with Leicester - then this happened
Britain's shadow chancellor Ed Balls (L) challenges reporter Rob Merrick for the ball during the Labour Party versus the media soccer match,
peopleReporter left bleeding after tackle from shadow Chancellor in annual political football match
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says
tvSpoiler warning: Star of George RR Martin's hit series says viewers have 'not seen the last' of him/her
Plenty to ponder: Amir Khan has had repeated problems with US immigration because of his Muslim faith and now American television may shun him
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments