See also Four Elms children’s home, Suffolk
Sunday Mirror, 12th April 1998
DEE Washington raised the 12-bore shotgun to her shoulder and fired. Both barrels. She aimed between her target’s legs, and there was a reason for that.
As Victor Copperman crawled in agony across the floor with two shots in his groin, the 41-year-old mother calmly re-loaded the gun and fired a third shot into the back of his head. Then she turned the gun on Copperman’s assistant, Anthea Trevelyan, and emptied it into her chest.
Surely an appalling double killing, by any standards. But there was a great deal more to it than that.
Until that awful day in November 1987, Dee Washington had never shot anything other than clay pigeons. Now, lying at her feet in pools of blood, were the bodies of the man and woman who had systematically abused her daughter Joanna for five years.
And to this day Dee believes that what she dispensed that bloody afternoon was justice. Justice from the barrel of a gun, but justice nevertheless.
She says: “If the law was as it should be and paedophiles were detained for life, I wouldn’t have taken those two lives.
“Yet despite all the pain and suffering over the last 10 years I can still put my hand on my heart and say, I’m glad they are dead and I am not sorry.
“I am only sorry that it had to come to that stage. Why did it have to come to the point where I did what I did?
“If they were still alive I am almost certain I would feel worse than I do today. It eats me up knowing what they did to Jo, but it would eat me up more knowing that they would probably have served their time in prison by now and would be out doing it again.”
It had taken Dee two weeks of anguish to decide on her fatal course of action, after she found out the dreadful truth about what had been going on at Four Elms, the special needs children’s home in Suffolk where Jo was a resident.
She put the shotgun in her car and drove for two hours to the home, unaware that Copperman and Trevelyan had already been arrested and then released back to Four Elms on bail.
Dee joined them for a cup of coffee in the kitchen – then retrieved the gun from the car.
After the shootings Copperman, 45, was found in the street outside, where he was mistaken for a road accident victim. He died in hospital a month later. Trevelyan was found dead, lying face down in the front room of the home with gunshot wounds to her hands and chest.
Dee managed to drive home, but she had to stop on the way and was violently sick at the roadside. A few hours later armed police surrounded her home in St Osyth, Essex, and she was arrested.
Dee told detectives: “I didn’t feel anything when I did it. I just shot them as many times as I could.
“Then I just went. It was like a dream. I felt disgusted and hated them and I wanted to hurt them as much as I could. I couldn’t believe what had happened to Joanna.”
Dee spent eight months on remand at Holloway prison then admitted manslaughter at her trial. She was detained for five months in a secure unit at a mental hospital. Both before and after the shootings she has not been in any trouble with the police.
The mother-of-three did what every parent only imagines they would want to do in such a situation, but 10 years on her act of revenge has not eased the pain of either mother or daughter.
Joanna is 28 now, yet she has the unmistakable voice of a little girl of 12. Physically she looks her age but emotionally she prefers to remain a child, because for most of her teenage life she was at the mercy of paedophiles.
After experiencing every horror imaginable at their hands she cannot accept that she is an adult because she never wants to be one. Jo, who is in a rehabilitation unit for people with mental problems, blames herself for her mother’s crime.
Dee, meanwhile, has counselling to help her come to terms with the killings. “People say ‘Well done, good for you, I would have done the same if I had been in your shoes.’ But it’s not well done, it’s wrong that I had to go that far,” says Dee, who has written a 400-page manuscript describing their experiences.
“I try to get through my days without thinking about what I’ve done, but it’s very difficult because it’s too big a thing to simply forget.
“I’ve had lots of traumas in my life but this is different, it’s too enormous to just gloss over. I suffered with post traumatic stress after the killings which are there in my mind every day and will be for ever.
“Jo’s life is still hell. She has scars all over her body where she harms herself and she is on medication. She has been in and out of mental institutions ever since my arrest.”
Mother and daughter’s torment has been made worse by the release from prison last week of child-killer Sidney Cooke. He was freed after serving just nine years of a 16-year sentence for the manslaughter of teenage runaway Jason Swift.
Dee says: “Please, please, stop releasing these diseased perverts to share the world with our children.
“When I see pictures of Sidney Cooke and look into his dark, sinister eyes, I feel sick. When I look at his crooked, twisted mouth, I wish that not one more breath would pass his lips.
“He has committed the most vile and disgusting act anyone could imagine on the innocent.
“Quadruple the intense feelings of anger and disgust that most people feel now about his premature release into the community, then you know what I feel about him.
“There are many Mr and Mrs Sidney Cookes. Most of them are on the outside calculating their next move, circulating among and defiling our young children.
“Knowing that this vile creature will more than likely re-offend when he is released, and he has admitted to this fact, it was ludicrous to ever have considered releasing him
“Those who have allowed his release form detention with this knowledge are guilty of aiding and abetting his next heinous crime.
“Why shouldn’t paedophiles remain in jail for life? It’s a known fact they re-offend, because they just don’t think they do anything wrong.
“Why is the Government so afraid of keeping them where they belong – locked up and away from kids?
“Many paedophiles must be clapping their hands with glee – one of their kind has been let off the hook yet again.
“They all believe there is no sin or abuse in what they do to children and feel they are innocent of any crime.
“Their life-long ambition is to abuse as many children as they can and recruit them as tomorrow’s abusers.
“The crime of taking a life is answerable with a life sentence in prison. Every child who has been abused has had their life taken from them just as surely as if a dagger was plunged through their heart. So the paedophiles should get a life sentence.
“Victims are deprived of their childhood as soon as the abuse begins. No one can undo the wrong that has been done to them. Their lives become a terrifying round of filth, alcohol and violence.
“Thoughts of suicide and guilt accompany them forever. And some in their adulthood have to fight off the desire to become abusers themselves.
“The only way to stop this is, when we catch them, we must never let them go.”
Joanna Washington’s nightmare began when she was 12. She had developed behavioural problems and learning difficulties at the age of eight, becoming involved in fights, and spent four years moving from home to home until she arrived at Four Elms, where Copperman was principal. There she was plied with whiskey and subjected to vile orgies of drunken debauchery.
At weekends Joanna became the victim of other paedophiles who visited the converted Georgian farmhouse in the Suffolk countryside.
Pornographic videos were taken of the children, and black magic rituals and vicious beatings occurred regularly. Eventually Jo blurted out her story while on holiday with her grandmother. She took Jo to be examined by a doctor, who confirmed that sexual abuse had taken place.
Later Jo gave Suffolk police a 60-page statement of her experiences at Four Elms, and when Dee’s solicitor visited her in Holloway she was told that police had a file eight inches thick of statements taken from former pupils at the home, supporting Jo’s allegations.
Dee says: “For six years the calculating fiends managed to separate Jo and me by poisoning her mind against me to give them the freedom to commit every conceivable disgusting act.
“It wasn’t just Jo who suffered this treatment, they singled out dozens of the most vulnerable children who lived as virtual prisoners in their supposed care.
“The paedophile sanctuary was under the guise of a school for children with personality disorders.”
Now Dee, who was herself sexually abused by her father when she was 11, wants to open a haven for children where they can recover from such ordeals.
She says: “These kids need space and someone who understands. You can’t learn out of a book how an abused child feels. They need to relate to someone who feels their pain.
“I’m not sure if the authorities would allow me to do it, but I will try.”
“I felt Jo’s pain because I experienced it too. That was partly the reason I reacted as strongly as I did to Jo’s abusers, because I understood exactly how my daughter felt and the emotion inside me was very strong.
“I didn’t speak out about it until after Jo’s abuse. It was just easier to get on with my life. My father is dead now – I was released from Holloway, while on remand, to attend his funeral.
“My mum was not aware of what went on. I was one of three children, two daughters and a son, and it only happened to me. It affected me badly throughout my life – I had two broken marriages and a nervous breakdown.”
Jo has been diagnosed as schizophrenic, and recently moved to a rehabilitation unit for people with mental problems. Her mother says: “I want to feel that Jo is safe but the only place of true safety for her is here, at home.
“I would like her to be stable at home but she’s tried it and so far she can’t cope. I have let her settle into her new place and will start visiting her again after Easter. Hopefully she will visit me here from time to time.
“We speak on the phone a couple of times a week and we write to each other. When she is not too disturbed she goes out
“Jo is doing very well but, like me, the pain of all this will never leave her.
“She blames herself for all that has happened and wishes that instead of speaking up, she had remained silent and just put up with the abuse.
“When Jo talks to me about how she suffered at their hands it’s hard to be in the same room as her. It’s almost as if Copperman and Trevelyan are still around, driving a wedge between us.
“It’s bad enough knowing what happened without hearing it from her mouth. And the people she talks about are those I was responsible for killing. It’s all too much to bear.”
“Yet Jo is just amazing. After all her indescribable torment she has so much love to give and in a way she is still innocent.
“She’s such a gentle person with goodness in her. She was abused but not corrupted, which doesn’t happen very often.
“She wants to cuddle me and when she’s at home we walk along together and she holds me by the hand.
“She says things like ‘Thanks, Mum, for being so understanding. I know you love me.'”