The Pembrokeshire Murders highlights the *other* crime taking place

Abby Robinson
·5-min read
Photo credit: ITV
Photo credit: ITV

From Digital Spy

In The Pembrokeshire Murders, which concludes tomorrow night (Wednesday, January 13), we learn that John Cooper's savage nature was not just reserved for married couple Peter and Gwenda Dixon, siblings Richard and Helen Thomas, and the five teenagers that he attacked, including the 16-year-old girl he raped, and the 15-year-old girl he sexually assaulted.

Cooper's own family, too, was subject to his seemingly bottomless cruelty, in particular his son, Adrian, now known as Andrew – and the drama takes significant care in detailing the long-standing, devastating effects of his father's abuse.

Photo credit: ITV
Photo credit: ITV

At the beginning of the second episode, Andrew is discovered by some railway tracks after collapsing.

He denies trying to take his own life, claiming that he accidentally overdosed on the pain medication which he is forced to take after being punched in the back by his father when he was a child. The injury has had a detrimental impact on his body, held together by rods and screws, with Andrew unable to walk unaided and without pain.

But police and audience alike are unconvinced by his claim.

Cooper himself is unmoved. "Tried to kill himself," he says without a flicker of concern when his wife, Pat, delivers the grim news. "Well he didn't try very hard, did he? He's still breathing."

He moves on quickly, instead preoccupied with his upcoming police interview, such is the extent of Cooper's narcissism.

When being interrogated by the authorities he deploys a shameful tactic so grotesque that it turns Detective Superintendent Steve Wilkins' stomach.

Photo credit: ITV
Photo credit: ITV

After labelling his son a liar, accusing Andrew of a raft of misdemeanours, Cooper then shifts the blame firmly onto him: "As a father, I take no pleasure in saying this but the truth is, the real truth, the night of the fire, the murders, Adrian was the one who came home late."

Writer Nick Stevens expands on that particularly repulsive trait of Cooper's: "When the detectives interviewed Cooper – they interviewed him over the course of three days – whenever he felt under threat, he would implicate his son Andrew, and in the book [The Pembrokeshire Murders: Catching the Bullseye Killer by Wilkins and ITV journalist Jonathan Hill], it was very clear that Steve Wilkins was disgusted by this strategy as any parent would be. Why would you implicate your son in such terrible crimes?

"It gave me a real fire to find Andrew and tell his story. Meeting with him and spending a lot of time with him delivered an additional storyline not in the book which I think enriched the drama."

Photo credit: ITV
Photo credit: ITV

Stevens also discussed his anxieties about tackling this aspect of the narrative.

"It was quite a job to find him because he lives very much under the radar," he said. "Jonathan Hill, the ITV journalist, was the one who found him, and I was quite apprehensive about the first meeting. Here I am, a TV writer, wanting to burrow into the darkest recesses of this man's private life.

"He was never anything but totally generous and open and he saw this as an opportunity to set the record straight, to tell his side of the story. And maybe revenge is too strong a word, but he had a score to settle with his absent father and he saw this drama as an opportunity to do precisely that."

Photo credit: WARREN ORCHARD - ITV
Photo credit: WARREN ORCHARD - ITV

Cooper's domineering menace also created a gulf between Andrew and his mother.

There's a scene when he returns to his childhood home in the belief that Pat is genuinely concerned for his welfare. Andrew is reticent, but he sets aside his own scepticism in the hope that the pair can once again build some form of relationship.

But Pat is acting on the orders of her husband, their reunion orchestrated by Cooper in the hope that he will be able to retrieve a key piece of evidence – a pair of khaki shorts – and the crushing reality hits Andrew like a freight train.

The emotional bruising of his father's mistreatment is evident throughout the series. There's a moment when he wakes in the middle of the night, only to discover that the sheets are saturated with his own urine. But it's here, in front of his mother, who failed to protect him from Cooper because she, too, lived under a cloak of fear, oppressed for years by her husband, where we feel the weight of his emotional wounds most heavily.

"Control, that's what it was all about," said Stevens when discussing the breakdown in Andrew and Pat's relationship. "You can feel that they both want to connect, and then she brings up the khaki shorts, the agenda that Cooper has given her, and Andrew realises that this is all about [his] dad controlling the situation once again. And what could have been a tender reunion falls apart.

"I think that, in a microcosm, is the story of their relationship. An awareness that they loved one another, that they both wanted to come together but were kept apart by John Cooper."

Photo credit: ITV
Photo credit: ITV

For Luke Evans, who plays DS Wilkins, it was essential that Andrew's voice, which certainly had the potential to slip under the radar in a series about two double murders, was given as much as importance as Cooper's other crimes.

"I'm very grateful to Nick, the writer, that he embraced the story of Andrew because it's a real powerful backbone to that side of the Cooper story," he told Digital Spy and other media.

"To know that other part of John Cooper's life, not just the fact that the people he murdered, brutally and in a shocking manner, but also what he did within the four walls of his own house, to his wife and to his son."

The Pembrokeshire Murders is available to watch now on the ITV Hub.

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