NewsCrime Desk

Pender suspect ruined my daughter's life says angry dad

John Thompson has admitted he was a suspect in Fiona’s disappearence but has always vehemently denied any involvement in her murder
John Thompson has admitted he was a suspect in Fiona’s disappearence but has always vehemently denied any involvement in her murder

The woman who claimed the chief suspect in the Fiona Pender investigation sexually assaulted and threatened to kill her is not a liar, her father this week told the Sunday World.

Speaking after a Canadian Court cleared John Thompson of sexually assaulting and threatening to kill his wife Sarah Coughlan, the victim’s father Tommy described Thompson as a control freak who destroyed his daughter’s life.

“We’re going public with this because people need to know that Sarah is not a liar,” a furious Tommy Coughlan said during an interview at his Birmingham home.

“Sarah has only ever told the truth. She did everything to try and get her children home from Canada and to try to get away from him – but instead he took their two children’s passports, preventing her from leaving.”

Revealing for the first time his daughter’s desperate battle to flee from her husband after he convinced her to follow him to Canada with their children in 2012, Tommy said Thompson trapped his daughter in Canada after their relationship broke down by hiding the children’s passports.

“Sarah couldn’t leave without the children and no matter how much she pleaded, he would not allow her to bring the children back to Ireland,” he said.

“His behaviour grew stranger and stranger and in the end she had no choice but to go into hiding.”

Tommy Coughlan

Tommy told how Thompson convinced his daughter – then his wife of six years – to follow him to Canada where he planned to buy a farm and apply for citizenship.

But their relationship deteriorated and Sarah, who was missing her family and friends in Ireland, pleaded with her husband to allow the family move back home.

Tommy said his son-in-law became obsessed with the idea the world’s banks were on the verge of collapse and began converting the couple’s financial resources to gold and silver.

“He started converting money to gold and silver and began constructing a bunker at their farm,” he said.

On June 27, 2014, Sarah fled the family’s new home in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, intending to fly back to Ireland, but was blocked after she realised Thompson had hidden the children’s passports.

She moved to a shelter, from where she exchanged a series of emails with Thompson pleading with him to allow her and the children return to Ireland.

“Please let me and the children go home,” she wrote. “Come too, or come to England. Please just let us go back and make a plan.”

Thompson rejected his wife’s pleas, responding: “For God’s sake I’d love to and you know that Sarah, but we can’t go without our citizenship.”

In court documents obtained by the Sunday World, Sarah went to the police, where she provided a statement to police claiming she was concerned for her safety and that of her children.

She told officers that Thompson was a suspect in the 1996 disappearance of his then girlfriend Fiona Pender and she was now afraid the same would happen to her.  She also alleged that she had been drugged and videotaped by her husband as he sexually assaulted her.

Thompson has admitted he was a suspect in Fiona’s disappearence but has always vehemently denied any involvement in her murder. He was investigated by gardai but was never charged with any offence.

Following his arrest, contact was established between the RCMP and the Gardaí which resulted in two officers from Templemore flying to Canada to interview Sarah in a bid to see if she could help them locate Fiona’s remains.

Tommy said: “The stuff that appeared in the media about Sarah flying to Ireland and pointing out the location of Fiona’s remains never happened.

“They [the Gardaí] flew out to Canada with a load of photographs of different locations and asked her whether she recognised them as any of the places where Thompson had brought her. The difficulty was the vegetation at these locations had changed, but Sarah did her best to help them.”

A three-week search began for Fiona’s remains in a woodland at the edge of a remote forest in the Slieve Bloom mountains in December 2014 but was unsuccessful.

Last Wednesday aftrer a year in protective custody, Sarah returned to the court.  But she was stunned when the case against her husband came crashing down and Judge Martin Popescul ruled her evidence lacked credibility.

He said that after Thompson had prevented Sarah from returning to Ireland with their two children she “in a desperate state, began to make allegations against the accused”.

This week, Tommy defended Sarah, saying: “Sarah is not a liar. This is a nightmare. She is still trapped in Canada because the custody dispute remains in the family courts.”