Is The Pembrokeshire Murders a true story? Who is John Cooper, who's in the cast - and when can I watch it

‘This isn’t just a true story, it’s a shocking true story about the worst serial killer Wales has ever seen,” said star Luke Evans

Tuesday, 12th January 2021, 8:22 am
Luke Evans takes in the Pembrokeshire Coast Path in ITV's The Pembrokeshire Murders (Photo: ITV)

Tonight sees the debut of ITV’s latest blockbuster crime drama, The Pembrokeshire Murders.

Starring Hollywood's Luke Evans and coming from the makers of Line Of Duty, it is set to be a “fascinating and insightful” account of how a serial killer was brought to justice for two unsolved double murders, years after he’d evaded capture.

Here is everything you need to know about it.

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What happens in The Pembrokeshire Murders?

The miniseries deals with the attempts of Detective Superintendent Steve Wilkins to find who was responsible for grisly crimes committed in an otherwise picturesque region of West Wales in the 1980s.

It’s 2006 when the drama begins, and Wilkins has recently been promoted. He decides to reopen both cases, believing that cutting-edge forensic science unavailable to the original investigative team could help unmask the killer.

As the story develops, we see Wilkins and his handpicked team take a deep dive into the case as microscopic DNA and fibres link the culprit to a spate of burglaries committed at around the same time.

The man responsible for those burglaries – John Cooper – has already been convicted for those crimes. He's behind bars, but with his sentence coming to an end, Wilkins believes he is also accountable for the murders.

What follows is a race against time as the team fights to find enough evidence to charge Cooper before he’s released to potentially kill again.

Is it a true story?

Yes, The Pembrokeshire Murders is a true story.

Told across three gripping episodes broadcast on consecutive nights, the programme painstakingly reconstructs what happened based on real events,

It includes Cooper’s late-80s appearance on an episode of Bullseye, footage of which was later used as evidence against him, comparing his image with a sketch of a suspect and resulting in him being identified by several witnesses.

The series is written by Nick Stevens – who previously wrote on In Plain Sight, telling the story of Lanarkshire serial killer Peter Manuel – and is adapted from the book Catching The Bullseye Killer, which was co-written by Wilkins himself and ITV news journalist Jonathan Hill.

Cooper is currently serving a whole life order for the double murder of siblings Richard and Helen Thomas, and the 1989 double murder of Peter and Gwenda Dixon. He was also sentenced for the rape of a 16-year-old girl and a sexual assault on a 15-year-old girl, both carried out at gunpoint.

Who stars in it?

Star of the show is Luke Evans, who plays DS Wilkins.

The actor and singer should be a familiar face to film fans, having starred in the Fast & Furious franchise, Peter Jackson's three-part adaptation of J. R. R. Tolkien's The Hobbit, and Disney's live-action adaptation of Beauty and the Beast.

“I’m a sucker for a true story and this isn’t just a true story, it’s a shocking true story about the worst serial killer Wales has ever seen,” Evans said when discussing the role.

The Welsh actor was also happy to be able to use his own accent “for the first time in many, many years”, and said it was “wonderful” to be back working on home soil.

During films, the crew were witness to “the most dramatic skylines over the sea, the coastal path… We’re lucky enough to have one of the longest coastal paths in the world, uninterrupted. It’s just a magnificent place to be at any time of the year.

“The juxtaposition of this terrible thing happening in such a beautiful place just adds to the mystery of the whole place.”

Elsewhere on the cast, Keith Allen (Marcella) plays Cooper, other cast members include Alexandria Riley (The End of the F***ing World) as Dr Ella Richards, Caroline Berry (Coronation Street) as Pat Cooper, John Cooper’s wife, Oliver Ryan as Andrew Cooper, and David Fynn (Vanity Fair) as Jonathan Hill.

When can I watch it?

The Pembrrokeshire Murders will be broadcast across three episodes on consecutive nights starting tonight (11 January) on ITV.

The hour-long instalments will air at 9pm, and will be available to stream through ITV Hub shortly after broadcast.