Revealed: The complex effort to put Cheryl Hooper's killer husband behind bars
Detective Inspector Mark Bellamy was responsible for building a case against murderer Andrew Hooper – and it came with unusual challenges.
Shot at point blank range by her estranged husband in front of her daughter, Cheryl Hooper's killing was harrowing and shocking in equal measure. Now the detective in charge of bringing her murderer to justice has revealed the unique challenges of a case where they could not even interview the suspect for 11 months.
Andrew Hooper was a cold, calculated and jealous man, who had taken to digitally tracking his estranged wife's movements – wrongly obsessed with the idea that she had been having an affair.
Late on the evening of January 26 last year he followed 51-year-old Cheryl to her home at Farmer's Gate in Newport, using his own vehicle to box her car in on the driveway, before shooting her twice with a shotgun from close range.
The crime was committed in front of Cheryl's teenage daughter, Georgia, who was left screaming for help from neighbours while 46-year-old Hooper fled the scene.
He raced to his farm where he tried unsuccessfully to kill himself using an unregistered historic shotgun – leaving him with catastrophic injuries to his face.
Discovered by a firearms team dispatched to arrest him, Hooper was given the first aid that ultimately saved his life and spent the next 11 months recovering at Stafford Hospital, before he was deemed well enough to stand trial for his crime.
Detective Inspector Mark Bellamy, part of West Mercia Police's Major Investigations Unit for the North of the region, led the efforts to put Hooper behind bars.
He has told of the difficulties of having to wait for Hooper to recover before being able to interview him, having to ensure the killer's welfare, the emotional impact of the case, and the bravery of Cheryl's family throughout their wait for justice.
“In 23 years as a police officer I have now dealt with more than 30 murders and all have their own unique challenges, but in terms of this investigation – the execution of an innocent lady in front of her 14-year old daughter, using a shotgun, and all the natural human emotions that the investigation team develop when working with the family for such a period of time, then yes this was an emotionally challenging investigation,” said DI Bellamy.
Full coverage of the trial:
Hooper’s injuries, which left him unable to speak, posed a unique problem in how to conduct an interview – particularly one which would stand up to the legal scrutiny required to be admissible in court.
The situation was a completely new one for the team investigating the case who had to seek guidance from across the country to make sure they handled it in a sensitive way.
DI Bellamy said: "We were unable to interview Hooper for 11 months and when you have a team of detectives champing at the bit to get him interviewed that really required me to get my team to be patient.
"At the same time we were having conversations with the family because they want him interviewed, charged, and to get justice. But I have to make sure we bring about justice that withstands scrutiny.
"So, although he committed this terrible act, at all stages my decision making had to take his welfare into account.”
The efforts of hospital staff treating Hooper were key in getting to a stage where the police could actually sit down in a room and quiz him over the killing.
DI Bellamy said: “We built up a very good working relationship with the nursing staff at Staffordshire – Matron Lisa Underwood, Sister Somerset and Sister Whitworth were fantastic in helping us to understand the complexities of Hooper’s treatment, and working with us for 11 months to enable us to finally interview him and make arrangements for his discharge to court.”
He added: “We were in weekly contact with them, trying to get an understanding of the complexities of the treatment, when he would be operated on, how that would impact on him, when we could speak to him.
"And there was delay after delay because there are other priorities for the hospital, but they were fantastic, they knew what we wanted to achieve but had to look after his welfare.”
Hooper was eventually interviewed twice by DI Bellamy and his team, in his room at the hospital – with each interview lasting around 45 minutes.
During his trial Hooper was able to give evidence by typing responses into a computer with one hand.
But at the earlier stage his injuries meant that his police interviews, which both took place on the same day, were conducted with cards and an alphabet board.
Officers were reduced to the most basic of communication techniques and were able to show him cards with 'yes', 'no', and 'don't know', or wait for him to spell out a response letter by letter.
Despite the difficulties, those interviews were enough to secure a charge of murder, leading to a trial at Birmingham Crown Court where Hooper tried to argue that he had just wanted to scare Cheryl – a claim rejected by the jury.
DI Bellamy said the defence was “beyond the realm of possibility”, and he was convinced Hooper had intended to kill Cheryl.
He said: “If you looked at the circumstances – the breakdown in the relationship, the attempts made by Hooper to blackmail his wife to return to him through text messages, the continued false attempts at committing suicide, the false promises made to Georgia, the purchase of the tracker, the acquiring of the gun, the confrontation at the pub, resulting in him shooting Cheryl at close range, the account provided by Georgia and then you look at his previous convictions, I never had any doubt he intended to kill Cheryl.”
It had emerged after the trial that in 2004 Hooper had been given a suspended sentence for breaking into his previous wife’s home and threatening to kill her.
However DI Bellamy did express concerns that Hooper’s injuries could have led to a sympathetic response from the jury.
He said: “I was quite satisfied it was deliberate. All the tests we had done on the gun relating to accidental discharge showed that but what you can never do is see into the minds of the jury.
“Your worry concerns the human element kicking in, and that seeing his injuries they would be sympathetic to his argument that he had accidentally discharged it.”
Despite the concerns, the jury returned a verdict of murder, with the judge reserving special praise for the bravery of Cheryl’s family, and particularly her daughter, in giving evidence.
DI Bellamy echoed the judge’s comments in praising Cheryl’s family, saying: “You cannot put it into words. They were tremendously supportive throughout the investigation. They showed patience throughout, and had to wait for 11 months until we could get hold of him.
"They had to understand at times that we had to put his welfare first. That was a difficult message but they always understood it. Throughout the whole process, particularly the trial, they were so dignified.
"Some of the things he was trying to put forward in his defence caused difficulties for them but at no stage did they react. The team and I were just amazed at their grace really, and Georgia's bravery and courage.”
And he admitted it had been an emotional experience when the jury finally returned the guilty verdict.
“When you are sitting in court and you can see the impact on the family, the impact on the jury," he said.
"When the family get to hear the jury go 'guilty', I always get emotional about it; I can't help it because you have achieved what set out to achieve and you have not let the family down.”
He added: “It is difficult, we appear in people's lives at the worst possible moment, the loss of a loved one. Me and my team take that responsibility very seriously, and we feel privileged to be trusted by the families to bring them justice for the loss of their family member.
"But naturally there comes with that an emotional bond that you build up working with the families. With this investigation that was magnified – we worked with the family for 18 months, we have children that are a similar age to Georgia and parents that are similar ages to Tony and Rita so there naturally becomes a deeper empathy to their situation, but that just makes us even more determined to get justice.”
Hooper was sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum term of 31 years.