CRIMEWATCH was one of the most watched programmes on television in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
And the edition on April 24, 1986, had particular resonance for the people of Pembrokeshire.
It’s must-see viewing as that night’s instalment opens with the December 1985 killings of Richard and Helen Thomas in their Scoveston Manor home.
The Crimewatch reconstruction is an in-depth look at the events surrounding the brutal deaths of the Thomases who were both gunned down in their home on the outskirts of Milford Haven.
Years later John Cooper would be convicted of their murders on an almost entirely different set of facts to the one Police presented at the time.
We’re going back to the original appeal to take a closer look at the account Police gave of the Thomases deaths at the time and not the account given twenty years later with the benefit of hindsight.
The reconstruction starts with Richard and Helen Thomas sitting in front of a fire, we’re told how secretive the siblings were, they had few friends but were liked in the local area.
Richard Thomas was, and still is, a bit of a mystery. He did not have close friends, but had a reputation of being a decent employer and he was well-liked by his workers who he always paid in cash.
Widely respected in the local farming community, Richard was a member of the ‘Cleddau Grassland Society’ where he was known as being shrewd with cattle dealings and for being extremely cautious with his money.
Richard Thomas was also known to be direct with people. He was not afraid to argue – this was evidenced by a long-running legal battle that he had won just months before against Gulf Oil that focused on the flow of water to his land.
The courts had awarded in his favour and he received a settlement of £70,000 as a result of the legal action he took.
Helen spent years caring for her elderly mother, she was devoutly religious, regularly attending services at Steynton Church, and she spent her time translating books into braille.
Scoveston Park had been the home of the Thomas family since the 1920’s.
Both the Thomas siblings grew up there and considered it their family home.
Richard, who had childhood dreams of being a scientist, became a farmer following the early death of his father.
Between them, the Thomas siblings owned 5 farms and over 600 acres of land.
Despite this wealth, Richard was miserly when it came to spending money.
His car was on the ‘brink of collapse’ and the whole estate had become run-down and was in dire need of repair.
The next we see of Richard in the reconstruction is him attending The Palace Cinema in Haverfordwest to watch a late-night pornographic movie.
According to Crimewatch, the last two occasions he attended an X-Rated film he was accompanied by a large, bearded, black-haired man who has never been traced by Police.
The reconstruction of the day of the murders starts at 9:30am on Sunday, December 22 with two loggers working in the grounds of Scoveston Park being spoken to by Richard who then heads off to feed cattle.
Helen attended a religious service at Steynton Church that Sunday at around 11am, fellow parishioners say she seemed her usual self that morning.
The siblings normally had lunch together at about 12:30pm. The Sunday in the reconstruction is no different.
Richard is next seen an hour later at 1:30pm on the Sentry Cross roundabout heading towards Neyland.
That is the last definite sighting of Richard Thomas alive.
Crimewatch, using information provided by Dyfed-Powys Police, then presents a theory about what Richard Thomas’ previous behaviour suggests might have happened that afternoon.
A resident of Honeyborough Green in Neyland recalls several occasions when Richard Thomas would park his car outside of her home before being picked up by a blue Land Rover. After a few minutes, the Land Rover would drive off.
A couple of hours later the blue Land Rover would return, and Richard would get out, pick up his car and drive away.
There is no evidence this happened that day.
The only evidence that a liason took place was the semen discovered in Richard Thomases anus post-mortem.
At the time that was seen as evidence that a gay lover might’ve been responsible in some way for Richard and Helen Thomases deaths.
When the semen was subjected to DNA testing in 2006 as part of Operation: Ottawa, that semen was discovered to have been Richard Thomas’s and it was believed to have gotten there due to the lower abdomen injuries he received from a shotgun wound and the effects burning had on his body.
At 3:30pm on the day of the murders, the last sighting of Helen Thomas takes place as she leaves one of her farms.
It’s believed that she drove straight home and would’ve arrived at Scoveston Manor at around 3:45pm.
What exactly happened at Scoveston Park that evening remains a mystery but several cars and people were seen at the end of the long driveway that leads to the manor.
At 4:15pm a yellow car is seen parked across the driveway, someone appears to be leaning out of the driver’s side door.
At 4:30pm a blue Ford Cortina is seen in the layby opposite the entrance to Scoveston Park, at the same time a blue Land Rover is parked on the same side of the road as the entrance to the manor.
At 5:30pm a bearded man is seen staring intently at Scoveston Park from the opposite side of the road.
Between 6-7pm, two men are seen walking along the stretch of road between Sentry Cross and Steynton, they are observed walking in the direction of Milford Haven.
The blue Land Rover is observed by witnesses parked in the area again at 6:50pm.
At 9:00pm Helen Thomas answered a phone call from one of her tenants, Mr. Nicholas, who was looking for Richard.
She told the caller that Richard should be home soon, this is the last contact anyone has with Helen Thomas.
At about the same time a man wearing a camouflage jacket is seen walking a dog, a Staghound, along the road from Steynton in the direction of Scoveston Park.
Within an hour of this, Helen Thomas is dead.
It’s believed that she was shot in her bedroom and that the fire that consumed Scoveston Manor was started in that room at around 10pm.
At 10:10pm Andrew Mayne, a gas engineer, was driving home, he was about a mile from Scoveston when a blue Land Rover approached him at speed and on the wrong side of the road, he was unable to get the vehicle’s registration number as it raced off in the direction of Milford Haven.
At 11:31pm, the Fire Brigade arrive at Scoveston Manor.
Although the blaze was established and the house well alight, the Brigade was called only two minutes previously.
Fire officers find Richard Thomas lying dead across a landing halfway up the stairs. He had suffered two shotgun wounds; one to the stomach and one a glancing shot to the head that, years later, pathologist OG Williams conceded might have actually been caused by a physical strike as opposed to a gun shot.
He had £75 in his back-pocket.
Firemen spent 5 hours battling the blaze at Scoveston and got it under control by about 4:30am.
Helen Thomas’s body was discovered the next morning.
Richard’s car was found at the manor with its driver’s side door still open and the keys missing.
Several shotguns had been removed from the property. The Police never traced them.
Blood was discovered in an out-building.
At first Dyfed-Powys Police believed it to be from one of the assailants. Later the Police say that it is ‘unlikely to belong to anyone other than Richard Thomas’.
Following the reconstruction, DCS David Davies makes a direct appeal for the ‘20 stone fat man with big legs’ to come forward, even though DCS Davies remarks that this man ‘shouldn’t be too difficult to find’ he has never been traced by Police; not even when the crime was re-investigated by SIO Steve Wilkins as part of Operation: Ottawa.
The Herald has received a suggestion as to the mystery man’s identity. That information is supported by an unrelated witness who alleges they regularly saw Richard Thomas and this individual “talking and touching” during visits to a local, now-defunct builders firm.
Likewise, the blue Land Rover seen speeding away from the scene has never been traced by Police.
Several local sources have told The Herald the blue Land Rover belonged to the large bearded man referred to above. They also claim the vehicle ended up at the bottom of a pond at a local farm within 10 miles of the scene, where, years later, it was concreted over.
After viewing the original Crimewatch reconstruction, The Herald has questions:
1. What other individuals did the Police identify as being near Scoveston Manor that night, whether at the time or in the course of Operation: Huntsman or Ottawa?
2. Why did the man that fled the scene in the Land Rover towards Milford Haven at 10:10pm never come forward to Police and explain what happened that night?
3. Why is the blood in the outbuilding not confirmed to be Richard Thomas’ blood, even after two separate police investigations into the murders?
4. How do the Police explain the vast differences between what it said at the time and what it relied upon in Court to convict John Cooper?
These questions, just like the questions we have about the murders of Peter and Gwenda Dixon, are not answered by Steve Wilkins’ and Jonathan Hill’s ‘The Pembrokeshire Murders’.
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