A PEMBROKESHIRE man currently serving life in prison for two double murders could be the victim of a miscarriage of justice, a Herald investigation can reveal.

John Cooper was convicted in 2011 of two double murders dating back to 1985, a sexual assault and a rape in 1996. 

The hideous double murders sent shockwaves across the nation, but the Herald now has reason to ask: “Is the right man in jail?”

Wagging his finger at the bench as he got taken down, Cooper protested his innocence and warned that the truth would one day “all come out”.

It’s a position that he and his family have always maintained since his conviction.

The Courts rejected John Cooper’s last appeal in November 2012.

Earlier this year, the murders were the subject of a major ITV drama series, The Pembrokeshire Murders.

The victims of the first murders were Richard and Helen Thomas

Richard and Helen Thomas of Scoveston

They were Milford Haven farmers and were killed in their home at Scoveston Farm on December 22, 1985.

The victims of the second murders were Peter and Gwenda Dixon

Gwenda and Peter Dixon were gunned down in 1989

The Dixons were killed on the Pembrokeshire Coast Path near Little Haven on June 29, 1989.

This newspaper has spent several months pouring over hundreds of documents relating to the brutal slayings.

We found vital documentation withheld from the defence in John Cooper’s 2011 trial. 

Those documents cast doubt over key DNA and fibre evidence used to convict Cooper. 

Police failed to disclose key evidence to John Cooper’s defence, including but not limited to the history of the exhibits inspected by experts as part of what the police dubbed ‘Operation: Ottawa’. 

Whether the disclosure failures were by accident, design, or negligence, we cannot say.

MISSING EIGHT YEARS

At John Cooper’s 2011 trial, forensic scientists inspected exhibits and delivered their professional opinions on the evidence presented to them.

The experts could not know, because the police did not tell them, what happened to the items they examined in the years before they came into their possession.

Eight years’ worth of provenance was not relayed to them by police before or after their inspections.

The Herald can fill in the blanks.

Between 1998 and 2006, the items offered for forensic examination were examined and displayed at the former Gulf Refinery. The police subsequently moved them to RAF Brawdy.

Dyfed-Powys Police footage showing evidence being displayed at RAF Brawdy in 1998

While they were at Brawdy, members of the public were allowed to remove some items from their bags to inspect them.

The exercise’s purpose was to allow the identification of items that may have been stolen.

The eight-year gap also includes the repacking of 165 of the exhibits in March 2000.

That step was essential, as police discovered items from six different crime scenes (including the Scoveston and Dixon murders) were all stored in ageing and torn paper bags in the same container dubbed ‘The Scoveston Sub-list’.

The genuine possibility of cross-contamination is undeniable.

That suggestion gets added force when we consider one exhibit: a sock removed from the corpse of Richard Thomas in December 1985.

When police first inspected that sock in June 1986, records state that no fibres were found.

When that sock was re-inspected by experts 20 years later, who were unaware of the initial investigation, fibres were found. 

Those newly discovered fibres matched fibres found on a pair of shorts recovered by police from John Cooper’s home.

The shorts and the socks had been in the same container before repacking. 

SHORTS NOT MRS DIXON’S

At John Cooper’s trial in 2011, the Prosecution advanced the idea that the shorts (AJM/165) had been removed from the murder scene of the Dixons in 1989 as a sick trophy by the killer. 

The Herald can now reveal that those shorts could not have been taken from the Dixons after they had been murdered – and Dyfed-Powys Police knew this and kept it quiet. 

Had the defence received the document in police possession called ‘Dyfed-Powys Police research report relating to AJM/165 Shorts’, as they were well entitled to, the forensic link between John Cooper and the Scoveston murders could ONLY be explained by cross-contamination or evidence tampering. 

Also of note is photographic evidence. 

AJM/165 at various different points after an unidentifiable officer took them into police possession

When police first seized the shorts, they were pristine. When they were photographed for the 2011 trial, they were soiled and dirty.

The shorts in question were purchased in America in 1987 by Pat Cooper. 

Although they were manufactured in Indonesia, the ‘Jean Philippe’ shorts were not, at the time, available for purchase in the UK.

And the police agree.

No members of the Dixon family recognised those shorts, and neither Peter nor Gwenda Dixon visited the USA between 1986, when the shorts first went on sale, and June 1989 when they were brutally gunned down on the coastal path. 

However, Pat Cooper, John Cooper’s late wife, did. The narrative presented in court, therefore, MUST be wrong. 

The central plank of evidence that convicted John Cooper of the first double-murder (The Thomas’) must now fall away. 

Moreover, Gwenda Dixon never wore the shorts used to convict Cooper and could NOT have worn them and they could not have been anywhere near Peter and Gwenda Dixon’s daughter in order to have had evidence put on them by her, the only time that could’ve happened was in police possession.

DIGGING DEEPER

On top of the above, The Herald investigations team has uncovered more worrying questions about the shorts.

Police statements confirm that the shorts were stored for many years in a brown police evidence sack. 

However, the shorts which forensic experts received were sealed in a plastic evidence bag. 

Why the discrepancy?

Where is the link – in legal terms ‘the nexus’ – between the shorts described by the police and those received by forensic scientists?

Any repacking of the shorts should be noted in the police’s witness statements to preserve the chain of evidence.

More troublingly still, after the shorts were returned by the forensic experts, they were BACK in a brown paper sack for the trial, without any indication of who had handled them and moved them from one bag to another.

Why would the shorts be packaged, repackaged, and then put back in the original packaging or similar? 

Or were there two different pairs of shorts?

A look at photographs taken at the time suggests that could be the case. Both pairs of shorts look similar, but the two samples are of a slightly different shade of green and with different pocket designs.

Did the police test a different pair of shorts than were shown at the trial, and why? Was there a mix-up? 

34 St. Mary’s Park in 1997/8

Two separate police officers both claimed to have discovered the shorts during an investigation of 34 St. Mary’s Park.

Were there two pairs of shorts and, if so, which were tested?

JOHN COOPER SPEAKS OUT

John Cooper wrote to The Herald from prison last week.

In a lengthy letter, he said: ‘My wife purchased the shorts in the USA in 1987 for our son, Adrian. 

“The USA visit is confirmed with the stamp in my wife’s passport for that year. 

“These details are also confirmed in Dyfed-Powys Police’s own research report which states that the shorts were only sold in the USA, and from 1986.”

John Cooper continued: “In Dr Philip Avenell’s DNA report, he states: ‘I am unable to exclude the possibility that [another person’s] DNA is on the shorts.’

“I was therefore convicted of Richard and Helen Thomas’ murders in 1985 from five fibres on a sock recovered in 2009 which did not have fibres on them in 1986 with fibres matched to fibres in the pocket of the shorts which were not in the British Isles until 1987 – two years after the Thomas’ murder in 1985. 

“The Prosecution also admitted that they had no control garment for the fibres.”

Cooper went on to say: ‘Dyfed-Powys Police failed to disclose eight years of provenance records and history relating to the shorts from 1998 to 2006 to the prosecution scientists [or to the defence experts].

“The police also did not disclose to forensic experts that the socks had a previous forensic examination in 1986 and had been repackaged in March 2000.

“The Prosecution claimed in court in 2011, that after I had killed Peter [and Gwenda] Dixon in July 1989, I had stolen the shorts from them, and my wife had altered them to fit me.”

TALK OF CONTAMINATION AT THE TRIAL 

During the 2011 trial, defence barrister Mark Evans QC argued that evidence taken from the Dixons’ murder scene in 1989 could have contaminated the evidence seized from Mr Cooper’s home nine years later.

He described certain occasions where he maintained that exhibits were incorrectly handled or stored, either by Dyfed-Powys Police or by forensic scientists at the laboratory.

Mr Evans called a forensic scientist for the Defence, Nigel Hodge, who told the court that cross-contamination was a possibility in his view.

In experiments, Mr Hodge said he found that if a dried blood flake from another source was deposited on an item and subsequently “rehydrated”, it could leave a bloodstain on the new item.

When cross-examined, Mr Hodge conceded that the conditions needed for such contamination to take place would need to be very specific.

At the trial, the jury heard that there was no proof the shorts had ever come into contact with exhibits from the Dixons’ murder scene. Mr Hodge could not eliminate the possibility the stains on the shorts were original bloodstains.

However, The Herald can now reveal that there ARE documents that prove that the shorts indeed could have come into contact with exhibits from the Dixons’ murder scene; specifically, during a forensic examination of the shorts at the Gulf Oil Refinery in 1998 or at RAF Brawdy where they were subsequently kept, displayed and handled.

The publisher’s description on ‘The Pembrokeshire Murders’ back cover describes its contents as “the fascinating true story”.

While we agree that it is a fascinating story, well told, it certainly isn’t complete.

Swathes of information that don’t fit in the frame of the story that Steve Wilkins and Jonathan Hill are telling are omitted or glossed.

The Crimestoppers appeal from the Sardis burglary

This includes information that John Cooper wasn’t even the target of the original police investigation into a violent burglary in Sardis and that the police bungled interviewing their initial suspect for that offence.

A Dyfed-Powys Police spokesperson said: “All relevant material relating to the crimes John Cooper was convicted of, were provided to the CPS in accordance with the CPIA at the time of his trial in 2011.

“There is a formal process for appeal, which Mr Cooper has previously explored, and we will always comply with any official review made by anyone who believes they have been wrongly convicted.

“It is not appropriate for Dyfed-Powys Police to comment on specific facts of this case which has been through a judicial process.”

The Herald will keep pushing until the FULL story is known, it’s time that the people of Pembrokeshire finally learn the truth about John Cooper.