Page last updated at 10:51 GMT, Thursday, 19 February 2009

Life for 'sadistic' 1996 killer

John Pope
Karen Skipper's family said they knew John Pope would be caught

A labourer found guilty of killing a 34-year-old woman as she walked her dogs in 1996 has been jailed for life and told to serve a minimum 19 years.

John Pope, 60, tied Karen Skipper's hands behind her back and threw her into the River Ely in Cardiff.

The judge, Mr Justice Davis said: "Putting Karen in the river to drown - that was not simply callous but almost sadistic."

Pope was caught in 2007 after advances in DNA and forensic techniques.

He had been questioned shortly after the attack but evaded justice until his arrest in December 2007.

Mrs Skipper's family welcomed the unanimous guilty verdict from the jury at Cardiff Crown Court on Wednesday.

Heidi Mathison, one of Mrs Skipper's three sisters, said after the conviction: "For almost 13 years we have lived every day with the knowledge that the person who took Karen from us was out there walking free, free to live his life.

"Justice had now been done. It will not bring Karen back to us and we will never get over her death, but it gives us some closure and maybe she can finally rest in peace."

Dorethea Scholz, another of Mrs Skipper's sisters, said that the verdict was "absolutely brilliant".

"Words cannot describe it. We have waited a long time for this.

"But we knew that, one day, the person would be caught," she said.

Karen Skipper
Karen Skipper's family said justice had been done after Wednesday's verdict

Sister Gail Emerson said she was "elated" when the jury foreman announced the verdict.

"It was like a whole weight had just been lifted off," she said.

The family thanked their friends, neighbours, police officers and members of a Cardiff skittles club, of which Mrs Skipper was a member, for their support.

They said they were grateful to Reginald Bean, who alerted police after finding Mrs Skipper's clothing on a riverbank.

The family of Mrs Skipper's former husband, Phillip, said conviction had been a long time coming but was "welcome".

Mr Skipper, known as Ginger, had been charged with her murder and stood trial in 1997, but was cleared. He died in November 2004, aged 48.

In a statement read by police, his family said: "It is also tinged with immense sadness as Ginger and his dad are no longer here to see the result.

"Ginger always maintained his innocence and this has been proven today."

His family said their thoughts were with Mrs Skipper's family, especially her mother.

'Shock and sadness'

They said Pope had "thought he'd got away with this 13 years ago.

"We hope he may realise what devastation he has caused to both families, the not knowing, wondering if Karen's killer will ever be caught."

Det Supt Stuart McKenzie, of South Wales Police, who led the investigation into Mrs Skipper's death, said his thoughts remained with her family and her ex-husband.

Mrs Skipper's death "devastated the lives of an entire family and brought shock and sadness to people across Cardiff", he added.

Pope, who was sentenced at Cardiff Crown Court, was interviewed at the time of the killing but denied ever knowing Mrs Skipper. He claimed he was at home on the night of her murder.

His blood was found on Mrs Skipper's clothing but he said he had been bitten by one of her dogs weeks earlier while removing a thorn from its paw.

His defence was that a blood smear from a tissue Mrs Skipper handed to him must have left its mark on her jeans.

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SEE ALSO
DNA leads to woman's 1996 killer
18 Feb 09 |  South East Wales
Forensic progress led to killer
18 Feb 09 |  South East Wales
Man's denial over river killing
05 Feb 09 |  South East Wales
Murder accused identified before
16 Jan 09 |  South East Wales
DNA linked to 1996 river murder
15 Jan 09 |  South East Wales

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