A Pembrokeshire man charged with two double murders as well as rape and robbery appeared at Swansea crown court via video link from prison today (Wednesday) when a judge was informed of the progress in the case.

John William Cooper, aged 64, is charged with the murders of sister and brother Helen and Richard Thomas at Scoveston Manor in 1985, and the murders of Gwenda and Peter Dixon on the Pembrokeshire coastal path in 1989.

David Elias, prosecuting, told Judge John Diehl that the investigations were complex and said the prosecution would require longer than normal to prepare the cases.

He said that, for example, there were already more than 70,000 documents and over 200,000 pages of evidence to consider.

The jury eventually empanelled to try the case might hear evidence from as many as 600 witnesses, he added.

Cooper, who is being held in custody at Long Lartin jail in Worcestershire, listened over the video link as Judge Diehl and counsel for the prosecution and defence agreed on a timetable.

The next significant development is expected to be on October 16 when Cooper will be brought to court for a plea and case management hearing. It will be at that stage that he is asked to enter pleas.

The court heard that the trial will last about three months and would not start until early 2010.

The case was adjourned and Cooper, of Spring Gardens, Letterston, was further remanded in custody The charges against Cooper include the rape of a woman, the indecent assault on a girl aged under 16, and five attempted robberies in Milford Haven, all in 1996.