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The Pembrokeshire Murders: The story behind the drama

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JOHN COOPER cast a long shadow over Pembrokeshire from 1985 until he was eventually caught and sentenced to life in prison for his horrendous, violent crimes in 2011.

Back in 1996 I was 11, it was my first year in Milford Comp and I can vividly remember being warned to stay out of Mount Woods after the serious sexual assault that was carried out nearby.

Those warnings felt, to an 11-year-old me, very serious, even if I wasn’t given the full facts at the time, it was clear that these warnings were coming from a place of genuine concern or even fear.

Fear was a weapon that, according to the new ITV drama ‘The Pembrokeshire Murders’, Cooper, being played by Keith Allen, wielded not only against his victims, but also against his family in order to guarantee their silence and loyalty.

The new drama series, coming to ITV early next year, not only focuses on Cooper’s deplorable crimes, but also on the effects that he had on those closest to him, like his son Andrew.

I got the chance to have a chat with members of the cast and crew over Zoom. Talking to The Herald, ‘The Pembrokeshire Murders’ writer Nick Stevens said: “Andrew Cooper was left a fragile, damaged and broken man after his father’s spree.

“Andrew had lost everything and had no happiness in his life because of his bully of a father, who, of course, blamed his son for his crimes.”

Caroline Berry as Pat Cooper (L) and Oliver Ryan as Andrew Cooper (R)

His son wasn’t the only one who felt the full wrath of John Cooper’s anger though, Nick went on to speak of Cooper’s wife Pat who also lived in fear of her husband.
“One of the key moments in the series is when Andrew reaches out to his mum, he goes to see her only for her to bring up those Khaki Shorts. At that moment it becomes clear to Andrew that Pat was still a part of Cooper’s agenda.”

That agenda of fear, of lies and of violent outbursts over the years, ensured his family’s silence, but how is it possible to bring a character as intricate and as predatory as Cooper to the screen?
Executive Producer Simon Heath told me “People remember Keith from years ago but people don’t know his Welsh roots.

“There’s a specific accent that Keith delivers perfectly that gives him the quiet menace that Cooper needed. When he unleashes his anger you can see the terror he inflicted on those around him.”

I asked Keith what worried him the most about taking on the role of Cooper: “I was worried about my accent” said Keith “I used to work in Tenby running boats during the summer, so I went back there on a Sunday and just sat in pubs listening to people talk but they were full of Mancs, Scousers and people from Birmingham watching Sky Sports!”

Keith Allen as John Cooper

“So what I did was drive out to Cooper’s village and walk around the area, then I went back to Tenby and that got me in the groove.”

“My trigger (for getting into character) was how he says ‘scuba diving’ from the Bullseye footage.

“I saw that and I thought ‘Oh my god, there’s a guy who will kill a couple one month later’ and you can see he’s not a very nice person, he imposes himself on his playing partner and he doesn’t enjoy being on that show.

“When he misses you can see the fury in his eyes and I’ve often thought that if he scored 180 on Bullseye that maybe they (the Dixons) would still be alive.”

Putting yourself in the mindset of a psychopath must be one of the weirdest experiences possible, Keith told me: “When you’re playing a real person, you can’t take your eye off the ball. But I’m a bone idle actor, I’m not the type of actor to be affected, but when you’re playing a real person, who did these terrible things, you do end up taking that character home with you.

“I’ve never met him but I think I’ve seen enough of him, when you know what he did you can watch him lying on the police tapes and it’s fascinating.”

Operation Ottawa: the team that cracked the case in the new ITV drama

But Cooper isn’t the sole focus of the new ITV series, we’re also going to see the herculean efforts put in by members of Dyfed-Powys Police to secure a conviction, leading the investigation at the time was Steve Wilkins who is being played by ‘The Hobbit’ and ‘Beauty and the Beast’ star Luke Evans who relished the chance to work on home soil with ‘The Pembrokeshire Murders’.

Luke told The Herald: “It was wonderful, I miss being home very much. I have such a close connection to Wales and it was lovely to be surrounded by authentic Welsh people, rich accents and wonderful characters.”
When asked about working around the stunning Pembrokeshire coast, Luke told The Herald “It’s just a magnificent place to be at anytime of the year, the juxtaposition of these terrible things alongside the dramatic coastline is incredible.”

‘The Pembrokeshire Murders’ finished production just days before the first COVID-19 lockdown was announced, Luke told me: “We finished production on March 13th 2020 and within 4 days we were in lockdown. We were lucky to get the chance to make this and even luckier to get it finished before lockdown.”

My last question for them was about the victims, did they feel a responsibility to those that were so awfully affected by Cooper’s reign of fear, to which Alexandria Riley, who’s playing Ella Richards, said: “We never forgot that this drama is based on real life, we were so aware that we had a responsibility to do it right. Everyone involved took that responsibility on their shoulders, to be sensitive to those affected by Cooper.
“We filmed close to where those events took place and it kept you focussed on being respectful.”

Keith Allen summed it up too, saying: “I think the program itself answers that question, I’ve seen it and what I like about it is there’s no weird lighting or effects, it’s realistic and in your face.
“It makes you think ‘God, is that what these people went through?’. When the people involved see this, hopefully they’ll think ‘good, now the world knows what we went through’.”
‘The Pembrokeshire Murders’ will air on three consecutive nights (January 11, 12 and 13) on ITV and we’ll definitely be tuning in.

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Join the Dyfed-Powys Police and Crime Panel as an independent member

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THE Dyfed Powys Police and Crime Panel is looking for two members to join them in their work to support and challenge the Dyfed Powys Police and Crime Commissioner.

The Panel is made of up of members nominated by Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion, Pembrokeshire and Powys county councils along with at least two independent members.

Opportunities have now arisen for two independent members to join the Panel and carry out key statutory roles that will support the Commissioner exercise his role effectively.

Members will be expected to attend and take part in regular meetings and take part in decision making, creating reports and making recommendations to the Commissioner.

They will review the Commissioner’s annual draft Police and Crime Plan and annual draft budget, review and scrutinise his decisions and actions, and if necessary review the proposed appointment or removal of the Chief Constable and other senior police force appointments.

Applicants will need to demonstrate that they can take a balanced and objective approach in supporting the Panel and the Commissioner, make strategic and well-informed decisions, and interpret and question financial, statistical and performance related information.

They will also need to be able to act as a ‘critical friend’, challenging views or proposals for change constructively.

Applications close on May 31, and appointments to the Panel will be made until October 31, 2024. 

For further information, visit www.dppoliceandcrimepanel.wales

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Successful Fire Service and Health Board partnership to enhance COVID-19 vaccine roll out comes to end

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TUESDAY 11 May 2021 marked the end of a hugely successful partnership between Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service and Hywel Dda University Health Board, initiated to enhance the roll out of the COVID-19 vaccine to the communities of Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion and Pembrokeshire.

Since February, Community Safety Staff from Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service have transported 125 passengers over 9450 miles to ensure they were able to receive their COVID-19 vaccination.

Chris Davies, Chief Fire Officer for Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service said: “Recognising the configuration of our Service, the areas we cover and indeed the people we employee, this seemed an ideal opportunity for us to widen our response to the pandemic and support our partners in safeguarding our communities.

“Whilst we already collaborate with the Welsh Ambulance Service Trust, this opportunity enabled us to expand our assistance further within the health arena. This partnership with Hywel Dda University Health Board was the first of its kind for Fire and Rescue Services in Wales and paved the way for a number of similar partnerships for us and the other Fire and Rescue Services in Wales.

“I am extremely proud of our staff who have participated in this collaboration and have made a huge difference to the lives of so many people. Their contribution has without doubt had a positive impact on our response to this global pandemic”.

Mydrian Harries, Corporate Head of Prevention and Protection for Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service, coordinated the Service’s response to this call for assistance.

“Our communities are at the heart of our core business. Knowing we were in a position to make an impact, we put in place a robust solution in record time, to not only ensure the safety and wellbeing of our staff, but to also safeguard those who were eligible for the COVID-19 vaccination, but may have had barriers preventing them from attending their appointments.

“Using this partnership as template within which we could expand, we have since been able to offer our assistance to other Health Boards across the Service area. Indeed, a group of 10 vaccine heroes from our Service have joined Powys Teaching Health Board’s vaccination team, playing their part in distributing vaccines at mass vaccination sites in Newtown and Builth Wells. This is another fantastic example of how working together has been vital in our ongoing response to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

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Brand new features unveiled at Scolton Manor Park

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ONE of Pembrokeshire’s best-loved family destinations has announced it will be unveiling several new attractions in June, ready for the summer holidays.  

Among the new features at Scolton Manor are an eco-explorer village, a 1.2km woodland cycle track, an outdoor pirate ship play area and a dedicated railway attraction complete with steam train locomotive ‘Margaret’ and ‘Scolton Express’ play train.

Mark Thomas, manager of Scolton Manor Park, said the team were looking forward to showing visitors the new attractions.

“We’re delighted with our new facilities and believe they will perfectly complement the attractions we have here already at Scolton,” he said.

The woodland eco-explorer village aims to give children more opportunities for outside play and spark their enthusiasm to discover more about the natural world.  

Cllr Paul Miller, Cabinet Member for Economy, Tourism, Culture and Leisure, said the village is perfect for all young explorers from toddlers right through to older children.

“Children love playing outside and we want to inspire them through their play to not only find out more about biodiversity and the environment but also how to care for it,” he said.

“As well as eco-explorer areas, games and activities there will be fun tips on how they can reuse, reduce and recycle more and protect the environment.”

The eco-explorer village is funded by a £50,000 grant from the Landfill Disposals Tax Community Scheme and £25,000 grant from Community Facilities Programme (Welsh Government), in partnership with the Pembrokeshire Beekeepers’ Association.

Mark Thomas said the current attractions at Scolton have also proved very popular since the outdoor areas at the park re-opened to the public earlier this spring.

As well as an adventure play area for older children which includes a 30-metre zip wire, a spinning climbing web and ‘super swings’,  younger visitors can enjoy the wooden playground, sensory musical play area and woodland play features.

“The many and varied attractions at Scolton enhance its role as a community facility while providing a wide range of countryside experiences at a lower cost,” said Mark.

“The new features in particular will also help to continue the development of the site into a must-visit tourist attraction within mid and North Pembrokeshire.”

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