Nail Bomber David Copeland: Confessional letters to ‘lonely secretary’ fictional lover sealed neo-Nazi's fate
Copeland was just 22 when he detonated explosives in Brixton Market, Brick Lane in the East End, and finally at the Admiral Duncan pub in Soho. He was arrested by police after the third nail bomb went off on Friday, April 30, 1999, and confessed to his crimes
Netflix's all-new true crime documentary 'Nail Bomber: Manhunt' delves into the crimes of David Copeland, who unleashed terror in April 1999 when he detonated three homemade nail bombs in London, killing three people and injuring at least 140.
Copeland was just 22 years of age when he detonated explosives in Brixton Market, Brick Lane in the East End, and finally at the gay pub Admiral Duncan in Soho. The last blast took the lives of 27-year-old Andrea Dykes, who was pregnant at the time, and friends John Light, 32, and Nik Moore, 31, from Essex.
Copeland was arrested by police after the third nail bomb went off on Friday, April 30, 1999, and he confessed to his crimes. While he attempted to plead guilty to a lesser charge of manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility, his plea wasn't accepted partly because of evidence laid out in letters he had written to "lonely secretary Patsy Scanlon" while remanded in custody.
As documented in 'Nail Bomber: Manhunt', which is available to stream on Netflix from May 26, Copeland stated in the letters he had "fooled all the doctors" into believing he was mentally unfit, but he would soon face the fact that Scanlon was a fake entity created by British author Bernard O'Mahoney.
What did the letters say?
Bernard O'Mahoney played an integral role in cementing Copeland's fate. The former soldier and club bouncer went on to become an author after his association with Tony Tucker, one of three drug dealers who were murdered in 1995 as they sat in a Range Rover in Essex. O'Mahoney has sparked a correspondence with several inmates over the years. His communications with Copeland while the latter was on remand at Broadmoor high-security hospital in 1999 were detailed in his 2005 book 'Hateland' as well as Netflix's 'Nail Bomber: Manhunt'.
Copeland didn't realize that he was writing to O'Mahoney when he believed he was corresponding to a young English woman named Patsy Scanlon. He openly expressed his love for her in the letters, and the notes obtained by O'Mahoney were later used as evidence against his argument of diminished responsibility due to mental illness.
O'Mahoney was interviewed in Netflix's 'Nail Bomber: Manhunt' documentary as he revealed that Copeland only realized Patsy was not a real person when the letters were presented in court.
“When the prosecution read out the girl he wanted to marry was actually a hairy-a**ed bouncer from Essex called Bernie… his world ended,” O’Mahoney quipped.
“I needed him to confess he was perfectly sane,” he continued, explaining that his plan was for the letters to establish that Copeland was sane at the time he had detonated a string of devastating nail bombs.
O'Mahoney described Patsy Scanlon as a "blonde, beautiful, do what they’re told without question, vulnerable and a total airhead." “I knew he would go for that one, one million percent, [but] essentially what I needed was a smoking gun,” he told producers.
Copeland told "Patsy" in his letters that it was "strange being famous" and opened his heart to her. “Patsy, can’t get you out of my mind, all I do is dream about you and when we can finally meet," he wrote. O'Mahoney replied saying they could meet after the trial, and how Copeland would be sent to hospital for treatment if he opted for a plea of diminished responsibility.
The epistolary relationship continued for a year and became more intimate over time, with Copeland fantasizing about Patsy wearing sexy clothing and visiting him at Broadmoore Hospital. “You’re the only girl I write to so you have no need to be jealous,” he assured her.
However, what he later let slip would lead to his undoing. “Dear Patsy, this place is a joke, so are the doctors, they think they are clever but they are as stupid as the fools in here. Things are not looking bad for my trial. I can’t believe that I have fooled all the doctors," he wrote.
How was David Copeland caught?
Copeland was captured on surveillance cameras during the Brixton attack, and his image was widely circulated in the media. Paul Mifsud, one of his colleagues, recognized him in a newspaper on April 30, 1999, but wasn't certain it was him.
“I bought all the daily papers and I started looking through them all, and some of the pictures just didn’t look like him,” Mifsud recalled during a 2000 Panorama interview. “I went in the garden and saw my wife and I said, ‘If you asked me what David looked like, I’d have to say like that,’ and I showed her the picture. I said, ‘you know, what shall I do?’ And she said, ‘Ring the Anti-Terrorist Squad immediately.’ I walked straight in and rang them.”
Mifsud's call to law enforcement came 80 minutes before the bomb Copeland had placed at the Admiral Duncan pub went off. Police, however, sprang into action after receiving the tip and rushed to Copeland's address in Hampshire to interrogate him.
“The officers are unarmed. There is no back-up. Their target is not a prime suspect,” Panorama reporter Graeme McLagan commented in his June 2000 documentary. “But in an upstairs room they find their man. They also find he has a cupboard full of explosives. Taken by surprise, they arrest him and hastily seal the room.”
Aside from the explosives, police also found a room decked with far-right memorabilia. David Copeland would confess to the three bombings shortly after. He was awarded six life sentences for three counts of murder and three counts of causing explosions in London.
Netflix's all-new true crime documentary Nail Bomber: Manhunt is available to stream on the platform from 26th May.