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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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Crime Commissioner continues to secure funding for organisations that support victims of domestic and sexual violence

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THE POLICE and Crime Commissioner for Dyfed-Powys Police is again making the offer for organisations that support victims of domestic and sexual abuse to bid for additional funds.

Funding was made available last year, in light of the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on organisations supporting victims of domestic and sexual violence.

It was part of a £76 million package of support made available by the UK Government.

Police and Crime Commissioner Dafydd Llywelyn said: “Thanks to this additional funding, we can ensure that victims and survivors of domestic abuse and sexual violence in Dyfed-Powys can access specialist services for support, at a time when they are needed the most.

“Unfortunately, we have seen a rise in domestic violence during the pandemic and victims need help now more than ever and I am grateful for the work of all the service providers across the Force area that help these men, women and families who are most in need.

“I want to reassure anyone who is in an abusive situation or relationship that you do not need to suffer in silence, and I urge anyone to report abuse to the Police on 101 or 999 in an emergency.

“This funding is open both to providers whom I currently commission and those that I do not currently fund. However, unlike the extraordinary Covid-19 funding provided in 2020/21, organisations do not need to be a registered charity, a charitable incorporated organisation, or a social enterprise to be eligible for this funding. They must, however, provide support services which have the purpose of helping victims of sexual violence or domestic abuse cope with the impacts of crime and, as far as possible, recover from the harm they have experienced. We would also encourage applications from small specialist organisations that support groups with protected characteristics.

“If you wish to submit a request for this funding, further guidance is available on my website, and can be requested via the office e-mail address.”

Closing date for submissions is close of play on Friday, March 12, 2021.

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Covid alert level lowered for whole of UK

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THE COVID alert level for all four nations of the United Kingdom has been lowered to alert level 4.

The decision comes following advice from the Joint Biosecurity Centre and in light of the most recent data.

In recent weeks, the R-rate and the number of covid cases has been on the decline.

Chief Medical Officer for Wales, Dr Frank Atherton said: “Following advice from the Joint Biosecurity Centre and in the light of the most recent data, the four UK Chief Medical Officers and NHS England National Medical Director agree that the UK alert level should move from level 5 to level 4 in all four nations.

“The health services across the four nations remain under significant pressure with a high number of patients in hospital, however thanks to the efforts of public we are now seeing numbers consistently declining, and the threat of the NHS and other health services being overwhelmed within 21 days has receded.

“We should be under no illusions – transmission rates, hospital pressures and deaths are still very high. In time, the vaccines will have a major impact and we encourage everyone to get vaccinated when they receive the offer. However for the time being it is really important that we all – vaccinated or not – remain vigilant and continue to follow the guidelines.

“We know how difficult the situation has been and remains to be for healthcare workers, we thank them for their immense effort, skill and professionalism throughout the pandemic.”

Under the Welsh Government’s Alert level 4 restrictions, schools and colleges, places of worship, community centres, playgrounds and public parks are among those that can be opened.

Theatres, entertainment venues, leisure facilities and outdoor visitors attractions are among the places that must remain close while the country is in Alert Level 4.

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Postmaster and politicians welcome Goodwick cash machine U-turn

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GOODWICK post office will now be keeping its ATM, after a U-turn by Post Office Ltd.

The machine was due to be removed within months with the post master, Jon Moverley saying that it would be a disaster for the village.

If the ATM had been removed, there would have been just two 24-hour ATMs serving the whole of Fishguard and Goodwick in the short term and three when the Co-op renovations are completed.

Both politicians and local residents then got behind the campaign to keep the ATM

Pembrokeshire politicians Paul Davies and Stephen Crabb have welcomed the news that Goodwick post office is now set to keep its ATM facility. Following representations made by both politicians to the Post Office, it’s now been confirmed that Goodwick Post Office will be included in the rollout of ATM machines across the post office network.

Mr Davies said “This is really welcome news. I’m pleased that the Post Office has listened to the representations made by the local community and decided to retain the ATM at Goodwick post office. The facility is so important for local people and businesses and it’s great that that’s been recognised and the Post Office has committed to keeping it.”

Following the Post Office’s decision to invest in Goodwick’s ATM rather than remove it, Stephen Crabb MP, who campaigned for the ATM to stay, commented: “It’s great news that the Post Office has overturned its own decision and will be keeping an ATM machine in Goodwick.

“Access to cash continues to be incredibly important for a number of people and businesses and I’m pleased to have played my part in working with John from the Post Office in Goodwick, Paul Davies MS and the wider community to highlight the ATMs importance to the area. It shows what can be achieved when we work together.”

The postmaster described the news as ‘brilliant’. Mr Moverley thanked supporters.

He said “Many thanks to all of you who have used the machine and complained to POL about the removal. We were also supported by our MP, MS and mayor, the National Federation of Sub-postmasters and our Chamber of Trade.

“Everyone did their bit, and it says an enormous amount about the strength of the community.

“We are delighted that locals and so many other people have come together to save this essential facility in the village.”

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