Popular BBC reporter Winton Cooper was brutally murdered by his own son.
by Ben Johnson
Staff at the BBC, one of the most high-profile broadcasting companies in the world, was left in shock after the January 2013 trial of a violent murderer who bludgeoned a former reporter and broadcaster to death with a hammer. Not least because the perpetrator of this sickening crime was the victim's own son.
Winton Cooper was a well respected local journalist, spending many years as a popular reporter working for BBC Radio Sheffield. Since retiring, Cooper, 64, had moved to the picturesque village of Marnhull, a quiet and respectable area on the Dorset coast, known for its natural beauty and quaint architecture.
This peaceful lifestyle was eventually to be shattered by the arrival of Joseph Cooper, then aged 24, in 2009. Winton and Joseph were virtually estranged after an acrimonious divorce between Winton Cooper and his former wife, Joseph's mother, in the mid 90's. This came during the height of Winton's media career, and left his young son devastated at the falling apart of his family.
Joseph had always been a problem child. The middle son of three, he often found himself in trouble with the police and his parents. The breakdown of his family environment escalated these problems until the newly divorced couple found themselves in an unusual situation. They fought over who wasn't going to take custody of the boy.
His father decided that the boy should stay with his mother, citing work commitments as the reason he felt unable to give his son the upbringing he so desperately needed. His mother simply could not cope with the antisocial behavior displayed by her son. Due to this post-nuptial deadlock, Joseph found himself taken into care.
This reluctance to give their son the care and attention he obviously needed (which was kept under tight secrecy due to Winton Cooper's prominent media position) was enough to cause irreparable damage to young Joseph. His mid to late teens were spent committing ever-worsening crimes, until he reached the age of 20, when he finally sought a reconciliation with his father, who was now living in Dorset, caring for his own elderly father.
The trio were reported to have at first lived a “peaceable existence” according to reports from Winchester Crown Court, in which a defense barrister, Stewart Jones, describes their lifestyle as “revolving around the local pub, the shops and their home.”
The First Attack
This idyllic and peaceful lifestyle began to show cracks in 2009, when Joseph is reported to have attacked his father with a metal bar. The older man was forced to barricade himself in his bedroom until his son's temper subsided. Describing the attack to friends, Winton claims that Joseph had “just lost it.”
Psychologists who were called to give evidence at Joseph's eventual murder trial believe that the young man had been suffering from mental health problems since childhood, and the subsequent strain of the acrimonious divorce and sense of abandonment had considerably worsened these violent outbursts.
After the first attack, the relationship in the house became more tense, with Winton often remarking to friends and family that Joseph was acting strangely, or that he was in fear of a further attack.
His prediction was, sadly, to become true just three years later.
During the trial, which took place on January 4, 2013, it was revealed that Joseph had made phone calls to his mother and two brothers, claiming to have killed his father. The trio initially refused to believe this, as Joseph's mental issues were common knowledge among the other members of his family. However, he was eventually able to convince them enough that Mrs .Cooper made a sceptical and apologetic call to police, repeating her son's grisly confession, but warning that this also may be a cruel hoax.
A Gruesome Crime Scene
Local police, who already had experience of the strange behavior of Joseph Cooper, took a much more serious view of this confession, and immediately dispatched three officers to the house.
On arrival, the three policemen are described by Stewart Jones as being confronted by a “shocking and gruesome scene.”
The naked body of Winton Cooper was found in the hallway of his home; he had been attacked with a hammer, three knives and a pair of pruning shears. The attack had been so frenzied that all three knives were bent from the force of the thrusts and the handle of the hammer had broken.
Forensic experts believe that the cause of death were a number of terrible head wounds, caused by repeated hammer blows. The knives and pruning shears are believed to have been used to inflict post-mortem injuries.
“The only way to describe Winton Cooper's head, was that it had been beaten in” said the barrister during his description of the horrific crime scene.
The three officers retreated from the house and called for armed back-up, who arrived quickly on the scene and found Joseph nearby. Joseph was immediately arrested, yet claimed that he had acted in self defense after his father had attacked him with knives. Forensic evidence was soon to disprove this claim and Cooper Jr. pleaded guilty when appearing in court for preliminary hearings.
The full trial, held at Winchester Crown Court, was adjourned in August 2012 when Judge Guy Boney halted proceedings in order for Joseph Cooper to undergo extensive psychiatric tests.
It was also at this preliminary stage that details of the defendant's childhood came to light, with close friends of the Cooper family testifying that Mrs. Cooper had been battling a drink problem since the children were at a very young age, and that Winton Cooper was known to have a short temper and could be violent and abusive in certain circumstances.
Judge Boney believed that Joseph's emotional problems were serious enough to have caused this violent attack, and suspended the hearing until January 2013, placing Joseph into the care of a high- security mental hospital.
When the trial finally restarted, two psychiatrists were called to report their findings. Both agreed that this troubled young man was suffering from “such an abnormality of the mind, that it had impaired his responsibility for his actions.”
Summing up, Judge Boney stated that this was an especially “shocking and gruesome” attack, but agreed with the psychiatrists that Joseph Cooper could not be found guilty of murder, but was guilty of manslaughter by diminished responsibility.
In a rare occurrence in any courtroom, the judge, prosecution and defense all agreed on the eventual outcome, that Joseph Cooper would be held indefinitely in a secure hospital until he could be safely released into society.
The press reaction in the UK to this case was one of sadness, rather than the usual lurid outrage. This was a case of a child who could not settle into a normal family lifestyle, and a father who would eventually pay the ultimate price for a lack of affection and moral guidance towards his wayward son.
Winton Cooper will be remembered as a popular and professional journalist, but will also remembered for his untimely and violent death. In life, he witnessed violent death first-hand, as he was one of the correspondents at the Hillsborough disaster, a tragic event which took place at a soccer game in 1989, and resulted in 96 people losing their lives. Twenty-two years to the day from that disaster, Winton Cooper was slain by his own son.