John Cooper: Detective looks back on Bullseye appearance
John Cooper committed a string of double murders in the Eighties, and managed to evade the police’s suspect list for almost 20 years. Yet he was already known to police: A prolific burglar in the Milford Haven area of Pembrokeshire, Cooper also had a history of violent assault. He was arrested and convicted for a robbery gone wrong in 1998, sentenced to 14 years in prison.
On his parole release in 2006, a court group under Dyfed Powys police came into being, led by Detective Steve Wilkins, known as “Operation Ottawa”.
Detective Wilkins had a hunch the same person had committed both the double murders and a sexual assault and rape of a 15 and 16-year-old girl respectively in 1996.
It took two years of collating witness statements and scrutinising thousands of old exhibits before the Ottawa team were convinced that the same person was responsible for all three crimes.
By 2009 – when Cooper was released early from his burglary sentence – the team had gathered enough evidence to arrest him, apprehending him in a dramatic street-side sting.
The twists and turns of the events were dramatised in ITV’s mini-series, ‘The Pembrokeshire Murders’.
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As the results of the case were known before the show aired, the programme looked to shed light on the personal and human side of the process – offering a heartbreaking glimpse at the effects Cooper had on his family: His wife Pat and son, Andrew Cooper.
Pat sadly passed away shortly after Cooper’s release in 2009.
She had been forced to disown Andrew, after he had rebelled against his father’s psychotic grip over family life, moving out as a 16-year-old.
Growing up under such an environment could, Dylan Rhys Jones, the former defence solicitor of the notorious North Wales serial killer, Peter Moore, told Express.co.uk have damaged Andrew’s psyche beyond repair.
He said: “Andrew was subjected to life with a very domineering father – maybe a bully – and that resulted in his injury at the age of 12.
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“Whatever happened at that time it left a scar on Andrew, which I suspect can’t ever be mended properly.
“Being a relative to someone who has been convicted of such heinous crimes is a very heavy burden to carry.
“Andrew has clearly been affected by the relationship he has had with his father, the attitude that his father had towards him, even blaming him for the murders.
“As a result I believe that Andrew can quite legitimately be considered as one of John Cooper’s victims.
“You have to remember that such crimes have immediate victims but also there are many other victims, family members and friends, sometimes police officers and others like lawyers who are working on the case.
“This is the sad reality of crimes such as John Cooper’s, it can destroy so many lives.”
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Andrew changed his name from Adrian in later years.
According to the programme – which features Andrew at length, gaining insight into the most private aspects of his life – he changed his name because Cooper chose ‘Adrian’.
In the final episode, Andrew says Cooper chose the name because he liked the Johnny Cash song, ‘A Boy Named Sue’, and wanted Andrew to have to “fight” because he had a girl’s name.
Andrew took to the witness stand during Cooper’s trial in 2011, appearing as a prosecution witness, and gave damning evidence against his father.
He spoke about how Cooper would go for long walks at night after dinner with his sawn-off shotgun; the weapon he used to murder brother and sister Richard and Helen Thomas in 1984, and Peter and Gwenda in 1989.
Appearing via a video link, he said his father was “very strong”, “very fit” and “loud and aggressive”.
He also told of how Cooper had a secret room in the house where he kept what “looked like other peoples’ possessions” including photographs of people he’d never seen.
Nick Stevens, who wrote the screenplay for ‘The Pembrokeshire Murders’ met with Andrew.
Speaking at a Q&A session ahead of the programme’s airing – based on the book ‘The Pembrokeshire Murders: Catching the Bullseye Killer’ – Mr Stevens said Andrew wanted to “set the record straight” about his father.
He added: “Meeting with Andrew and spending a lot of time with him, delivered an additional storyline not in the book, which I think enriches the eventual drama.
“I was quite apprehensive about the first meeting, here I am a TV writer wanting to burrow into the darkest recesses of this man’s private life.
“And he was never anything but totally generous and open. He saw this as an opportunity to set the record straight, to tell his side of the story.
“He had a score to settle with his absent father and he saw this drama as an opportunity to do precisely that.
“Meeting with Andrew and spending a lot of time with him, delivered an additional storyline not in the book, which I think enriches the eventual drama.”
The publication Crime and Investigation quoted Andrew as having previously said he was beaten by his father “for the most minor of transgressions” as he constantly “bounced off the walls”.
At one point, aged 11, he said he feared for his life as his father “pointed a shotgun at his face, close range and taunted the terrified boy as his tormentor pulled the trigger”.
Cooper also viciously beat Pat.
Despite pleading his innocence, Cooper was found guilty of the two double murders.
He was convicted on May 26, 2011.
‘The Pembrokeshire Murders: Catching the Gameshow Killer’ airs tonight at 9pm on ITV.
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