AROUND this time of the year, many people are trying to get rid of the pounds they piled on over Christmas. But for one Droitwich family back in the 1970s, the wife’s weight loss led to a tragic tale of infidelity, secret escape and finally manslaughter

The saga ended in a trial at Leeds Crown Court, where the jury was told that an operation to reduced Barbara Cooper’s weight from 23 stone to less than 15 resulted in her becoming more sexually demanding of her husband George. Eventually he could not cope, so she took a lover and ran away to live with him in a house in Wakefield.

In desperation, Cooper drove up to the Yorkshire town in an attempt to win his wife back. But he also carried with him a double barrelled shotgun and when the lover’s taunts proved too hard to bear, he shot the man dead and with the second barrel wounded his wife in the stomach.

George Cooper, who in 1977 was 37 and a marketing manager of Woodman’s Close, Droitwich, stood accused of the murder of Mervyn Collins, a 32-years-old fork lift truck driver, and causing grievous bodily harm to his wife Barbara, aged 30.

Cooper made a very unlikely gunman. He and Barbara had three children and he came from a family of successful light engineers, which had businesses in Droitwich and Worcester. However, the UK’s struggling economic climate in the 1970s led him to sell his Specialite Tool Company in St Martin’s Gate, Worcester, and quit “gloomy Britain” in July 1974 to take his family to Australia.

The Coopers boarded a train at Shrub Hill station, Worcester heading for Heathrow airport, but their new life didn’t work out and within a year they had returned to Worcestershire.

It was after that their marriage began to have problems. In May 1975, Barbara Cooper took a job as a wages clerk at Union Cold Storage in Droitwich where Mervyn Collins was a fork lift truck driver. He was then happily married with two daughters and in fact lived on the same estate in the town as the Coopers.

However, by late 1976, George Cooper suspected his wife of having a relationship with another man and there were stormy scenes when he saw Barbara getting our of a car driven by Mr Collins. It later transpired the two lovers would slip away from their homes to have clandestine meetings at 6am.

With their cover blown, Barbara Cooper and Mervyn Collins ran away to Wakefield. George Cooper was distraught and placed an advert in a local paper saying: “Everything forgive, please come home”. But it did not work and his wife went to a Wakefield police station to say she and Mervyn Collins were fine and she was not coming back.

Their address was supposed to be secret, but the pair were eventually tracked down by George Cooper with help from his wife’s mother. As a result he agreed to take some of Barbara’s clothes up to Wakefield, but hidden among them was a shotgun his wife had bought him as a birthday present.

Shortly after entering the house, Cooper pulled out the gun and shot Mr Collins in the chest from about four feet away, killing him instantly. A second shot was fired hitting Barbara Cooper in the stomach. The wound needed an emergency operation. Cooper was later to tell the jury he “just blew up” after Collins taunted him: “You’re the one who couldn’t manage your wife, not me.”

Following the shooting, Cooper went to a local police station and rang his father. An officer overheard the conversation and asked if the couple were dead. He replied; “I don’t know, but I did it. She had an operation two years ago and she’s never been the same since.

"I knew what was going on but we had had 15 happy years together. I came up to see her the other day to try to get her to come back, but she just laughed in my face.”

George Cooper was found not guilty of murder but convicted of manslaughter and Mr Justice Jupp jailed him for six years. A three year sentence for causing GBH to his wife would run concurrent.

After the case, Barbara Cooper said: “I have forgiven him, but I will never forgive myself for what happened.”