John Cooper goes into the witness box to deny four murders

First published in News

Former Milford Haven man John William Cooper has gone into the witness box to deny any involvement in four shocking murders – or any of the 31 crimes he was jailed for in 1998.

Cooper, now aged 66, has started giving evidence in his defence, and told of his anger at spending so long in prison.

He said he had no involvement in the cold blooded killing of brother and sister Richard and Helen Thomas, murdered at their home in Scoveston Park in 1985.

He said he had never been on the Pembrokeshire coast path where, in June 1989, holidaymakers Peter and Gwenda Dixon, aged 51 and 52, were blasted to death by a shotgun.

And, he said, he would have had no reason to be anywhere near a field off the Mount Estate, in March 1996, when a 16-year-old girl was raped, her friend indecently assaulted and five teenagers were ordered by a hooded gunman to hand over cash.

The prosecution claim that evidence linking Cooper to the crimes was found along a trail that police believe was used by the man who carried out a robbery at Sardis in 1996. Cooper was later convicted of that crime and jailed.

Cooper said a balaclava found at the time was his – and scientists found his head hair inside. But he claimed it had been stolen from a cabin cruiser boat he owned.

He denied having anything to do with a sawn-off shotgun also found on the Sardis trail, later found to have a speck of Peter Dixon’s blood on one of the barrels.

He also said he did not know how the DNA of the Dixons’ daughter Julie came to be on a pair of shorts found at his then home of St Mary’s Park, Jordanston.

Peter Dixon’s blood was also found on them. The prosecution maintains Cooper took the shorts from the scene of the murder on the coast path.

But Cooper said the shorts were his, acquired by his late wife Pat for him.

Asked if he had any idea how Julie Dixon’s DNA came to be on the shorts, Cooper replied: “No idea at all”.

Cooper said at the time of the Sardis robbery he had been keeping a diary of his health as his doctor and a consultant tried to help him with his arthritis. “I was not capable of robbing anyone,” he added.

Another entry recorded how he had stumbled into a tree, and another of how he was not well enough to take part in a darts tournament, all around the time of the robbery.

Cooper: 'I refused to admit charges to get parole'

Cooper told the jury of the anger he still felt about spending, but for a few weeks, the last 13-and-a-half years in jail. “I have an anger inside me that is hard to describe. But I don’t use the negative side of it. I use the positive side to move on,” he said. Cooper was telling the jury what happened to him after Judge Christopher Morton jailed him for 16 years in December 1998, for 30 burglaries and a violent robbery. He said he was sent to a category A prison but progressed through the system to a category D prison from which he was transferred to an open prison in 2006. The year before he had prepared an application for parole but was told he could not be released if he continued to deny the offences. “You have to give them something. You can’t go on professing your innocence and still get parole. “I wanted parole but I was not prepared to admit to things that I hadn’t done,” he said. As a result, Cooper served more than half of the 16-year sentence. He was released towards the end of 2008 and told to stay for a time in a hostel in Swansea. By then, his wife Patricia had agreed to allow him to live with her at her home in Spring Gardens, Letterston. But in December she suddenly died and it was Cooper who found her body. On January 2, 2009, he moved into Spring Gardens. At 8.20am on May 13 he was arrested shortly after leaving the property and charged with the offences he now denies.

'Jealousy after big cash win'

Cooper has told the jury of his life around the Milford Haven area – including the reaction his family received after they scooped £90,000 on a Spot the Ball competition. Cooper said he was born in Milford Haven and left grammar school at the age of 15 to take courses in carpentry and upholstery. On July 11, 1966, he married Patricia and they lived in a council house in Howarth Close. They had a son, Adrian, in January 1967 and a daughter, Teresa, the following year. By 1978 he was a welder’s mate at the then Gulf oil refinery and that year a 50p attempt at a newspaper’s Spot the Ball competition netted him £94,000. He took the option of receiving £90,000 in cash and a Rover Princess car. He said he gave £1,000 to each of ten relatives. Cooper and his wife spent a “no expense spared” holiday in America and bought Big House farm in Rosemarket, along with five-and-a-half acres of land. “I didn’t think I had changed but people’s attitudes had. We suffered a backlash, jealousy,” he told the jury. He left the refinery and became a smallholder at Big House, growing barley and rearing calves and poultry, and stabling horses. Meanwhile, his wife opened a shop called the Tap Room with a friend, Janet Underwood. Cooper said he “contracted myself out” to Mike Richards, of Jordanston Farm, as a labourer but realised his own smallholding was not large enough to work. He sold the Big House and, in 1982, bought Valetta Villa at Hazelbeach, Milford. He said he sold the Big House to the manager of the Nelson Hotel, Milford, who did not pay the full price. Cooper accepted the balance in the form of a cabin cruiser and a diamond ring. He berthed the cruiser outside Valetta Villa. From Valetta Villa, which he sold at a profit, he bought 22 acres in Johnston and began to build a bungalow. Meanwhile, his family moved into 34 St Mary’s Park, Jordanston, the rent for which was deducted from his wages by the owner, Mike Richards. The 22 acres became known as the Beeches and the Coopers were again raising calves, growing barley and stabling horses. Meanwhile, Mrs Cooper continued her activities as a seamstress. But in 1987 she was kicked by a horse and almost died. The Coopers abandoned the Beeches and sold it at a loss. In 1989 – the year the Dixons were shot dead as they walked the Pembrokeshire coast path – there was a “bust up” between Cooper and Mr Richards which resulted in Cooper being sacked and receiving a notice to quit 34 St Mary’s Park. Cooper refused to leave, claiming he was protected by the Rent Act, and heard nothing more. He never paid rent again but, he said, he carried out improvement works to the value of the rent. He said 34 St Mary’s Park had been in poor condition and he had “kept all the records” about what he had done to improve the property. Cooper denies all the charges and the trial continues.

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