Peter William Sutcliffe (born 2 June 1946) is a British serial killer who was dubbed “The Yorkshire Ripper”.
In 1981 Sutcliffe was convicted of murdering 13 women and attacking seven others. He is currently serving 20 sentences of life imprisonment in Broadmoor Hospital. After his conviction, Sutcliffe began using his mother’s maiden name and became known as Peter William Coonan. The High Court dismissed an appeal in 2010, confirming that he would serve a whole life tariff and would never be released from imprisonment
Peter William Sutcliffe was the first of six children born to John and Kathleen Sutcliffe, on 2 June 1946, in Bingley, Yorkshire. As a boy he was reserved, and preferred spending time with his mother, finding it difficult to make friends at school, and he was often bullied. He left school aged fifteen, with no clear career focus, and his early working life was spent in a number of short-lived, menial occupations, which included a stint as a gravedigger. Between November 1971 and April 1973 Sutcliffe worked at the factory of Baird Television Ltd, on the packaging line. He left when he was asked to go on the road as a salesman.
Outwardly he presented as a diligent, likeable individual, if a little reserved, and, in 1966, he met the daughter of Czech immigrants, Sonia Szurma, whom he courted and eventually married in August 1974. They moved in with her parents, as his chequered work history meant that they had insufficient funds to buy their own home.
During the time of their courtship, Sutcliffe had developed an obsession with prostitutes that he indulged together with a friend, Trevor Birdsall, and they spent a large portion of their spare time cruising red-light districts in the Yorkshire area. This obsession continued after their marriage and the acquisition of his HGV licence in June 1975, and his subsequent work as a lorry driver, took him away from home more than ever, enabling him to indulge his obsession without fear of detection. There is speculation that a bad experience with a prostitute, during one of these forays, which he was believed to have been conned out of money, it was said to be the fuel of his violent hatred of these women that resulted in the death of thirteen women, and the vicious attack of seven others.
Sutcliffe committed his first assault on an older prostitute whom he had met whilst searching for the woman who had previously tricked him out of money. He had left his friend’s mini-van and walked up Saint Pauls Road, Bradford, until he was out of sight. When he came back, he was out of breath, as if he had been running. He told his long-term friend Trevor Birdsall, who was the driver of the vehicle that he was in, to drive off quickly. Sutcliffe said that he had followed a prostitute into a garage and hit her over the head with a stone in a sock. According to his statement, Sutcliffe stated, “I got out of the car, went across the road and hit her. The force of the impact tore the toe off the sock and whatever was in it came out. I went back to the car and got in it”.
When the police visited his home the next day, they informed him that the woman, who bore no resemblance to the prostitute who had tricked him out of £10, had noted down Birdsall’s mini-van vehicle registration plate. Sutcliffe admitted that he had hit her over the head, but claimed that it was only with his hand. The police told him he was “very lucky” as the prostitute did not want anything more to do with the incident – she was a known prostitute and hercommon-law husband was serving a sentence for an assault.
Sutcliffe committed his second assault on the night of 5 July 1975 in Keighley. He attacked Anna Rogulskyj, who was walking alone, striking her unconscious with a ball-peen hammer and slashing her stomach with a knife. Disturbed by a neighbour, he left without killing her. Rogulskyj survived after extensive medical intervention but was emotionally traumatised by this attack.
Sutcliffe attacked Olive Smelt in Halifax in August. Employing the same modus operandi he struck her from behind and used a knife to slash her, though this time above her buttocks. Again he was interrupted, and left his victim badly injured but still alive.
Like Rogulskyj, Smelt suffered emotional scars from the attack, including clinical depression. On 27 August, Sutcliffe attacked 14 year old Tracy Browne in Silsden. He struck her from behind and hit her on the head five times while she was walking in a country lane. Sutcliffe was not convicted of this attack, but confessed to it in 1992.
The first victim to lose her life was Wilma McCann, on 30 October. McCann was a mother of four from the Chapeltown district of Leeds. Sutcliffe struck her twice with a hammer before stabbing her 15 times in the neck, chest and abdomen. Traces of semen were found on the back of her underwear. An extensive inquiry, involving 150 police officers and 11,000 interviews, failed to uncover the culprit. One of McCann’s daughters committed suicide in December 2007, reportedly after suffering years of torment over her mother’s death.
Sutcliffe committed his next murder in January 1976, when he stabbed Emily Jackson 51 times in Leeds. In dire financial straits, Jackson had been using the family van to exchange sexual favours for money, a fact which shocked family and neighbours when it was revealed after the murder. Sutcliffe hit her on the head with a hammer and then used a sharpened screwdriver to stab her in the neck, chest, and abdomen. Sutcliffe also stamped on her thigh, leaving behind an impression of his boot.
Sutcliffe attacked Marcella Claxton in Roundhay Park, Leeds, on 9 May. Walking home from a party, she was given a lift by Sutcliffe. When she later got out of the car to urinate, Sutcliffe hit her from behind with a hammer. She was left alive and was able to testify against Sutcliffe at his trial.
On 5 February 1977 he attacked Irene Richardson, a Chapeltown prostitute, in Roundhay Park. Richardson was bludgeoned to death with a hammer. Once she was dead, he mutilated her corpse with a knife. Tyre tracks left near the murder scene resulted in a long list of possible suspect vehicles.
Two months later, on 23 April 1977, Sutcliffe killed Bradford prostitute Patricia “Tina” Atkinson in her flat, where police found a bootprint on the bedclothes.
Two months later Sutcliffe committed another murder in Chapeltown, claiming his youngest victim, 16-year-old Jayne MacDonald, on 26 June.
She was not a prostitute. In the public perception, her death showed that every woman was a potential victim. Sutcliffe seriously assaulted Maureen Long in Bradford in July.
He was interrupted and left her for dead. A witness misidentified the make of his car. More than 300 police officers working the case amassed 12,500 statements and checked thousands of cars, without success. On 1 October 1977 Sutcliffe murdered Manchester prostitute Jean Jordan. Her body was found ten days later and had obviously been moved several days after death. In a later confession, Sutcliffe stated he had realised that the new £5 note he had given her was traceable. After hosting a family party at his new home, he returned to the wasteland behind Manchester’s Southern Cemetery, where he left the body, to retrieve the note. Unable to do so he mutilated Jordan’s corpse and moved the location of the body.
The following morning, Jordan was discovered by actor Bruce Jones, who at that time was a local dairy worker. He had an allotment on the land adjoining the site where the body was found and was searching for disused house bricks when he made the discovery.The £5 note, hidden inside a secret compartment in Jordan’s handbag, offered a valuable piece of evidence. The note was new, allowing it to be traced to branches of the Midland Bank in Shipley and Bingley. Police analysis of bank operations allowed them to narrow their field of inquiry to 8,000 local employees who could have received it in their wagepacket. Over three months the police interviewed 5,000 men, including Sutcliffe, whom they did not connect to the crime.
On 14 December Sutcliffe attacked another Leeds prostitute, Marilyn Moore. Moore survived and provided police with a description of her attacker.
Tyre tracks found at the scene matched those from an earlier attack.
The police discontinued the search for the person who received the £5 note in January 1978. Although Sutcliffe was interviewed about the £5 note, he was not investigated further (he would ultimately be contacted, and disregarded, by the Ripper Squad on several further occasions). That month, Sutcliffe killed again. His victim was 21-year-old Bradford prostitute, Yvonne Pearson.
Sutcliffe hid her body under a discarded sofa and it was not found until March. He killed 18-year-old Huddersfield prostitute Helen Rytka, on the night of 31 January.
Her body was found three days later. On 16 May, Sutcliffe killed again after a three-month hiatus. The victim was Vera Millward whom he killed during an attack in the car park of Manchester Royal Infirmary.
Almost a year passed before Sutcliffe attacked again. During this period, in November 1978, his mother Kathleen died, aged 59.
On 4 April 1979 Sutcliffe killed a 19-year-old building society clerk, Josephine Whitaker. He attacked her on Saville Park Moor, Halifax, as she was walking home. Despite new forensic evidence, police efforts were diverted for several months following receipt of a taped message purporting to be from the murderer. The message taunted Assistant Chief Constable George Oldfield who was leading the investigation. The tape contained a man’s voice saying “I’m Jack. I see you’re having no luck catching me. I have the greatest respect for you, George, but Lord, you’re no nearer catching me now than four years ago when I started.”
Based on the recorded message police began searching for a man with a Wearside accent, which was narrowed down to the Castletown area of Sunderland. The message was much later revealed to be a hoax. The hoaxer, dubbed “Wearside Jack”, sent two letters to police in 1978, that boasted of his crimes. The letters, signed “Jack The Ripper”, claimed responsibility for the murder of 26-year-old Joan Harrison in Preston in November 1975. (On 20 October 2005,John Samuel Humble, an unemployed alcoholic and long-time resident of the Ford Estate area of Sunderland – a mile from Castletown – was charged with attempting to pervert the course of justice for sending the hoax letters and tape. He was remanded in custody. On 21 March 2006 Humble was convicted and sentenced to eight years in prison.)
On 1 September Sutcliffe murdered 20-year-old Barbara Leach. Leach was a Bradford University student killed and her body dumped at the rear of 13 Ash Grove, under a pile of bricks, close to the university and her lodgings. It was his sixteenth attack. The murder of a woman who was not a prostitute again alarmed the public and prompted an expensive publicity campaign, which emphasised the Wearside connection. Despite the false Wearside lead, Sutcliffe was interviewed on at least two further occasions in 1979. Despite matching several forensic clues and being on the list of 300 names in connection with the £5 note, he was not strongly suspected. In total, Sutcliffe was interviewed by the police on nine occasions.
In April 1980 Sutcliffe was arrested for drunk driving. While awaiting trial on this charge, he killed two more women.
He murdered 37-year-old Marguerite Walls on the night of 20 August, and 20-year-old Jacqueline Hill, a student at theUniversity of Leeds, on the night of 17 November. He also attacked two other women who survived. They were Dr. Uphadya Bandara, attacked in Leeds on 24 September, and 16-year-old Theresa Sykes, attacked in Huddersfield on the night of 5 November. On 25 November, Trevor Birdsall, an associate of Sutcliffe reported him to the police as a suspect. This information vanished into the enormous amount of paperwork already creates
Hill was to be the Ripper’s last victim. Over the second half of 1980, police became increasingly sceptical of the accuracy of the “Wearside Jack” profile, and forces were instructed not to discount potential suspects purely on the grounds of their accents.
1981 arrest and trial
Millgarth Police Station in Leeds city centre, where the Yorkshire Ripper police investigation was conducted.
On 2 January 1981, Sutcliffe was stopped by the police with 24-year-old prostitute Olivia Reivers in the driveway of Light Trades House, Melbourne Avenue, Broomhill, Sheffield, in South Yorkshire. A police check revealed the car was fitted with false number plates and Sutcliffe was arrested for this offence and transferred to Dewsbury Police Station, West Yorkshire. At Dewsbury he was questioned in relation to the Yorkshire Ripper case as he matched so many of the physical characteristics known. The next day police returned to the scene of the arrest and discovered a knife, hammer and rope he had discarded when he briefly slipped away from the police after telling them he was “bursting for a pee”. Sutcliffe had hidden a second knife in the toilet cistern at the police station when he was permitted to use the toilet. The police obtained a search warrant for his home at 6 Garden Lane in the Heaton district of Bradford and brought his wife in for questioning.
When Sutcliffe was stripped of his clothing at the police station he was wearing a V-neck sweater under his trousers. The sleeves had been pulled over his legs and the V-neck exposed his genital area. The front of the elbows were padded to protect his knees as, presumably, he knelt over his victims’ corpses. The sexual implications of this outfit were held to be obvious, but it was not communicated to the public until the 2003 book, Wicked Beyond Belief: The Hunt for the Yorkshire Ripper, written by Michael Bilton. After two days of intensive questioning, on the afternoon of 4 January 1981 Sutcliffe suddenly declared he was the Ripper. Over the next day, Sutcliffe calmly described his many attacks. Weeks later he claimed God had told him to murder the women. He displayed emotion only when telling of the murder of his youngest victim, Jayne MacDonald, and when he was questioned about the murder of Joan Harrison, which he vehemently denied. He was charged at Dewsbury on 5 January.
At his trial, Sutcliffe pleaded not guilty to 13 counts of murder, but guilty to manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility. The basis of this defence was his claim that he was the tool of God’s will. Sutcliffe first claimed to have heard voices while working as a gravedigger, that ultimately ordered him to kill prostitutes. He claimed that the voices originated from a headstone of a deceased Polish man, Bronisław Zapolski,and that the voices were that of God.
He also pleaded guilty to seven counts of attempted murder. The prosecution intended to accept Sutcliffe’s plea after four psychiatrists diagnosed him with paranoid schizophrenia. However, the trial judge, Mr Justice Boreham, demanded an unusually detailed explanation of the prosecution reasoning. After a two-hour representation by the Attorney-General Sir Michael Havers, a 90-minute lunch break and a further 40 minutes of legal discussion, he rejected the diminished responsibility plea and the expert testimonies of the four psychiatrists, insisting that the case should be dealt with by a jury. The trial proper was set to commence on 5 May 1981.
The trial lasted two weeks and despite the efforts of his counsel James Chadwin QC, Sutcliffe was found guilty of murder on all counts and sentenced to life imprisonment.The trial judge said that Sutcliffe was beyond redemption, and that he hoped that he would never leave prison. He recommended a minimum term of 30 years to be served before parole is considered. This recommendation meant that Sutcliffe would have been unlikely to be freed until at least 2011, at the age of 65. On 16 July 2010 this sentence was extended to a full life term, meaning that Sutcliffe will not leave prison alive, barring any judicial developments to the contrary.
After his trial, Sutcliffe admitted two further attacks to detectives. It was decided at the time that prosecution for these offences was “not in the public interest”. West Yorkshire Police have made it clear that the female victims wish to remain anonymous.
The following are the nine police interviews of Peter Sutcliffe during the Yorkshire Ripper Investigation.
INTERVIEW NUMBER ONE: November 2 1977
The first time Peter Sutcliffe was interviewed was a result of his failure to find the newly issued £5 note he had given to Jean Jordan on October 1 1977 in Manchester when he made a “return visit” to the body on October 9th. Jean Jordan’s body was found the morning of October 10th. Her handbag, with the incriminating £5 note, was not discovered until five days later, approximately 100 yards from where the body had been found. The note, serial number AW51 121565, had been part of a batch distributed to firms for pay packets for almost 8,000 men only days before October 1st. It was reasoned that it was doubtful, though still a slight possibility, that the note could have travelled so far, so quickly, by regular commerce. Find the man who had received the note, and you probably had found the killer.
Sutcliffe, employed by T. & W. H. Clark (Holdings) Limited in Shipley, one of the firms that could have received the note, was visited at home by Detective-Constables Edwin Howard and Leslie Smith at 7:45 pm on November 2nd. Sutcliffe and his wife were both at home, and Sutcliffe appeared relaxed and casual, and did not seem to be perturbed by the visit of the detective-constables. He said he had been at home the night of the murder of Jean Jordan, a month earlier, and had gone to bed around 11:30 pm. His wife confirmed his story. When questioned about the second date, when the killer had returned to the body, Sutcliffe had an apparently solid alibi, he and his wife had been having a housewarming party. Sutcliffe could not produce any £5 notes that he had received in his pay packet a month earlier on September 29th.
Having found nothing to arouse their suspicions, like thousands of other routine enquiries dealing with the £5 note, the detective-constables subsequently filed a five paragraph report stating Sutcliffe had denied being a punter and that his wife had given a general alibi for the night of the murder. “Not connected” was the conclusion drawn in regards to the Jean Jordan murder
INTERVIEW NUMBER TWO: November 8 1977
Six days after the first interview, Sutcliffe was questioned again about the £5 note by two different policemen. Sutcliffe and his wife Sonia gave the same stories as they had given to the previous police visitors. They also allowed their house to be searched and nothing incriminating was found. Sutcliffe was also questioned about his car, as tire tracks had been found at the scene of the Irene Richardson murder which could have come from around 50 different types of vehicles.
As a follow-up to Sutcliffe’s statement about the housewarming party on the night of October 9th, police called on Sutcliffe’s mother, Mrs Kathleen Sutcliffe, who confirmed she had been at her son’s house on the night in question. She also stated that he had driven her and her husband back to Bingley after the housewarming party (after which Sutcliffe had not gone home, but had continued on to Manchester to further attack the body of Jean Jordan and search for the incriminating £5 note)
INTERVIEW NUMBER THREE: August 13 1978
An operation mounted in the red-light districts in Leeds, Bradford, Manchester, and Sheffield brought the police again to Sutcliffe’s door. Police officers had been staking out the red-light districts noting down car numbers. Sutcliffe’s red Ford Corsair had been spotted seven times in the Bradford red-light area. On August 13th, Detective-Constable Peter Smith called at No 6 Garden Lane to interview Sutcliffe.
DC Smith found Sutcliffe in overalls decorating the kitchen and did not seem to mind the interruption. Without revealing that the police were conducting the secret monitoring of vehicles in the red-light districts, DC Smith inquired generally about Sutcliffe’s car movements. Sutcliffe would later say “I told him I couldn’t say exactly what I’d been doing, but that I had to drive that way to work and back.” Sutcliffe also denied that he used prostitutes when questioned without his wife present.
Sonia Sutcliffe backed up her husband by stating that he rarely went out at night, and when he did she was usually with him. She also said that they had been at Rockafella’s, a discotheque in Leeds, on the night of one of the murders. Both Sutcliffe and his wife had difficulty remembering what they did on the weekend of May 16th/17th, when Vera Millward was murdered, but Sonia believed her husband would have been home all evening.
DC Smith did not check the tires on Sutcliffe’s red Ford Corsair, nor was he aware that Sutcliffe had recently purchased a black Sunbeam Rapier, which had already been spotted nine times in the Manningham red-light district.
INTERVIEW NUMBER FOUR: November 23 1978
Dective-Constable Peter Smith, on a return visit, inquiries about Sutcliffe’s banking arrangements, and about his vehicles. Sutcliffe’s purchase of the black Sunbeam Rapier had eventually resulted in the sale of the red Ford Corsair. DC Smith would later visit the new owner of the car to check the tires, but by then the tires had been replaced with new ones.
INTERVIEW NUMBER FIVE: July 29 1979
Detective-Constable Andrew Laptew and Detective-Constable Graham Greenwood visit Sutcliffe at home after his Sunbeam Rapier was spotted 36 times by Ripper surveillance teams in Bradford, twice in Leeds, and once in Manchester. This was the most crucial interview of the nine times that Sutcliffe was questioned by police. For the first, and only, time Sutcliffe’s answers and demeanour did not allow him to avoid the suspicion of the officers that there was “something not quite right about this man.” When the two detective-constables went to interview Sutcliffe they did not know that he had been questioned about the £5 note, nor did they know he had been questioned about the frequency of his red Corsair in red-light areas. His file in the Ripper Incident Room was almost two years out of date.
In an interview with the Times, Laptew said, “I remember having a joke with his wife to break the ice. I said to her that now was a good time to get rid of her husband if she wanted to. I expected some reaction or a laugh. But neither her nor her husband seemed to have any sense of humour whatsoever.” Sutcliffe was strong in his denials, and was, once again, backed by his wife, but at the same time he appeared unusually quiet. When questioned, Sutcliffe claimed again that the Bradford red-light sightings were due to his travelling to and from work, the Leeds sightings were when he visited a nightclub, and he denied the Manchester sighting. At one point in the questioning, Sonia agreed to leave the room, and Sutcliffe continued to deny he used prostitutes, saying that he had no need of such women since he hadn’t been married very long.
As he sat in the front room of Sutcliffe’s home in Garden Lane, Bradford, DC Laptew realised that everything the police knew about the Ripper seemed to fit the man he was questioning. Sutcliffe was the same height and build as the man described by two survivors, he had a beard, a Jason King-style of moustache, collar-length black hair, dark complexion, and smallish feet. Sutcliffe also had a distinctive gap between his top two teeth as noted in survivor Marilyn Moore’s photofit. He was also a lorry driver, one of the suspected occupations of the Ripper. Laptew said, “He stuck in my mind. I was not 99 per cent certain, otherwise I would have pulled him in. But he was the best I had seen so far and I had seen hundreds. The gap in his teeth struck me as significant. He fitted the frame and could not really be taken out of it.”
Both DC Laptew and DC Greenwood felt there was something not quite right about Peter Sutcliffe. Days later, Laptew discovered that could have owned the £5 note that was found in Jean Jordan’s handbag. Continuing to follow up on Sutcliffe, he also found found out through the Regional Criminal Records Office that Sutcliffe had been convicted for ‘going equipped to steal’ in 1969. Unfortunately, Laptew did not check with the Criminal Records Office at Scotland Yard, where there were two important and vital details, the burglary tool had been a hammer, and Sutcliffe had also been arrested earlier in a stationary car in a red light district.
DC Laptew’s two page report, detailing his and DC Greenwood’s suspicions, and that Sutcliffe should be seen by senior detectives, was passed on where it was considered about nine months later by two superintendents, including Detective Superintendent Dick Holland, second-in-charge of the entire inquiry. Here the hoax letters and tape, and the police over-reliance on them as being from the Ripper, instead of the real crime scene clues and descriptions from survivors, played their horrific part in allowing Peter Sutcliffe to avoid becoming subject to more intense questioning and from becoming a prime suspect. Sutcliffe had lived all his life in Yorkshire, and a Home Office report showed that a specimen of Sutcliffe’s handwriting, taken by DC Laptew, did not match the letters from Sunderland. DC Laptew and DC Greenwood’s suspicions and report was routinely marked “to file” where it would languish with thousand of others in the massive backlog of reports not yet filed in the system, allowing Sutcliffe to escape yet again from further and more probing investigation
INTERVIEW NUMBER SIX: October 23 1979
Sutcliffe is seen by two detective-constables for the second time about his Sunbeam Rapier being spotted over 36 times in red light areas. This was due to an inspector who was checking through the Ripper Incident Room’s backlog of unprocessed actions. He was not entirely satisfied with the alibis and statements that had previously eliminated Sutcliffe and so further action was initiated. Unfortunately, at this time, the Laptew report was still missing from the system. Sutcliffe was re-interviewed and samples of his handwriting were again taken, and, not surprisingly, he was again eliminated as a suspect
INTERVIEW NUMBER SEVEN: January 13 1980
In January 1980, Manchester police returned to Bradford for a second attempt to trace the owner of the £5 note. In order to try and reduce the number of people who could have received the note down from the over 8,000, an innovative re-enactment took place. They recreated the counting out of the money using the same bank staff and arranged for them to count out the same amounts as when the original batch had been done back in September 1977. Using experienced bank staff and the ledgers, they were able to more clearly establish were the money had gone. Through these techniques they were able to reduce the number of firms which could have received the note down to just three firms, Clarks, Butterfields, and Parkinsons. They also reduced the number of people who could have received the note down to 241 (including Peter Sutcliffe). Meanwhile, the Laptew report still hadn’t found its way past the massive backlog and into the system.
On January 13th, Sutcliffe and his wife are interviewed at their home by a Detective Sergeant from Yorkshire and a Detective Constable from Manchester. Sutcliffe was asked about his work, and also for an alibi for the night of the murder of Barbara Leach four months previous, but he was unable to provide one. The officers searched Sutcliffe’s house, as well as examining his boots and the tools in his garage.
Due to a failure in the incident room indexing, either through missing or misplaced cards, the officers were unaware of Sutcliffe’s more recent interviews, only aware of his interviews in the previous £5 note inquiries. When Sutcliffe stated he had provided a handwriting sample in a previous interview, it surprised the officers, who would later check with the incident room. This re-check of the index would eventually result in the finding of some interview documents conducted during the red-light monitoring, but the Laptew report was still out of the system.
Of the 241 suspects that were to be interviewed from the original £5 note investigation, only seven had been flagged as having any additional information in the index. It was later discovered that Sutcliffe was one of eighteen others who should have fallen into this category, but who had been missed in the initial search of the index
INTERVIEW NUMBER EIGHT: January 30 1980
On January 30th, at the Kirkstall Forge Engineering Works in Leeds, while loading his lorry, Sutcliffe was again interviewed. He is again asked and explains about his car movements through red-light districts, and says that he was home at the time of the Leach murder, which his wife could confirm. The two officers also search the cab of Sutcliffe’s lorry (their report would also claim that they searched Sutcliffe’s home and car, but this had not been done. They had known at the time of the interview that Sutcliffe’s house had been searched in the previous interview).
Sutcliffe claimed that the policemen also had a photograph of his boot print left at the scene of the murder of Josephine Whitaker, and that he was wearing the same boots when interviewed. “I stayed dead calm, and as I got into the wagon I realised I was standing on the steps, which were mesh, and they could look up and see for themselves that I was wearing those boots. But they didn’t. They couldn’t see what were in front of their own eyes.
INTERVIEW NUMBER NINE: February 7 1980
The final interview comes about as a result of the incident room inspector not being satisfied with the action report from the previous interview. He orders a more indepth interview be conducted in regards to Sutcliffe’s vehicles, his vehicle sightings in red-light districts, and his alibis.
Sutcliffe is interviewed at T. & W. H. Clark’s by two detective constables, where he gives alibis for some of his car sightings, as well as an alibi that he was home on the night of the Whitaker murder, which, again, Sonia would confirm
There are many factors which allowed Sutcliffe to be able to avoid becoming a prime suspect in the murders. The massive backlog of unprocessed actions allowed Sutcliffe’s file to be woefully outdated and inadequate for police officers intending to interview him. Many times they did not know what had happened in previous interviews, or that any previous interviews had taken place. Ronald Gregory revealed in his memoirs in the Mail On Sunday that on four occasions the interviewing officer, or officers, thought they were questioning Sutcliffe for the very first time.
The £5 note inquiry, which first brought police to his doorstep, was hampered by the fact the note was not found until five days after the body of Jean Jordan. Even then, interviewing thousands men who could have received the note was a daunting task. As well, there still was a slim possibility the note had changed hands quickly and the murderer was not the one who received it in his pay packet. More importantly, Sutcliffe’s alibi on the night of the return visit to the body had collaborating witnesses. Since most of the police interviews were about subject matter that had taken place some times months previously, confirmation by Sutcliffe’s wife Sonia of any alibis, or the statements that he was at home at the time, could not realistically be challenged by investigating officers.
The over-reliance of the police on the hoax letters and tape, rather than the more substantial clues from survivors and murder scenes, contributed greatly to Sutcliffe’s avoidance of becoming a prime suspect as it gave him an “out” during the interviews and investigations. The most important interview, by DCs Laptew and Greenwood, and their investigation into Sutcliffe’s past and their suspicions about him based on aspects of the case unconnected to the letters and tape, was ultimately nullified by the letters and tape at a senior level, allowing Sutcliffe to avoid further and more intense inquiries.
Criticism of West Yorkshire Police
West Yorkshire Police were criticised for being inadequately prepared for an investigation on this scale. The case was one of the largest ever investigations by a British police force and pre-dated the use of computers in criminal cases. The information on suspects was stored on handwritten index cards. Aside from difficulties in storing and accessing such a bulk of paperwork (the floor of the incident room had to be reinforced to cope with the weight of the paper), it was difficult for officers to overcome the information overload of such a large manual system. Sutcliffe was interviewed nine times, but all information the police had about the case was stored in paper form, making cross referencing a difficult task. This fact was compounded by the television appeal for information, which generated thousands more documents to process.
The Assistant Chief Constable (Crime), George Oldfield, was criticised for being too focused on the “I’m Jack” Wearside tape and letters. The original investigation used them as a point of elimination rather than a line of enquiry. This angle allowed Sutcliffe to avoid scrutiny, as he did not fit the profile of the sender of the tape or letters. The Wearside Jack hoaxer was given unusual credibility as analysis of his saliva on the envelopes he sent showed he had the same blood group as the Yorkshire Ripper had left at the crime scenes, a type only shared by 6% of the population. He also appeared to know details of the murders which had not been released to the press but which he’d actually gained from his local newspaper and pub gossip. The official response to these criticisms led to the implementation of the forerunner of the Home Office Large Major Enquiry System, firstly through the development of MICA (Major Incident Computer Application), which was developed between West Yorkshire Police and ISIS Computer Services. In 1988, the mother of the last victim argued in court that the police had failed to use reasonable care in apprehending the murderer of her daughter in Hill v Chief Constable of West Yorkshire Police 1988. The House of Lords held that the Chief Constable of West Yorkshire did not owe a duty of care to the mother
Prison and Broadmoor Hospital
Following his conviction and incarceration, Sutcliffe choose to go by the name Peter Coonan, which had been his mother’s maiden name. Sutcliffe began his sentence at HMP Parkhurst on 22 May 1981. Despite being found sane at his trial, he was soon diagnosed as suffering from schizophrenia. Attempts to send him to a secure psychiatric unit though were initially blocked. During his time at Parkhurst he was seriously assaulted for the first time.
The attack was carried out by James Costello, a 35-year-old career criminal from Glasgow with several convictions for violence. On 10 January 1983, he followed Sutcliffe into the recess of F2, the hospital wing at Parkhurst Prison. He plunged a broken coffee jar twice into the left side of Sutcliffe’s face, creating four separate wounds requiring a total of 30 stitches. In March 1984 Sutcliffe was finally sent to Broadmoor Hospital, under section 47 of the Mental Health Act 1983.
Handshake … Ripper meets Frank Bruno as Jimmy Savile looks on @ Broadmoor
His wife Sonia obtained a separation from him in 1982 and a divorce in April 1994. On 23 February 1996, Sutcliffe was attacked in his private room in the Henley Ward of Broadmoor Hospital. Paul Wilson, a convicted robber, asked to borrow a videotape before attempting to strangle him with the cable from a pair of stereo headphones. Two other convicted murderers, Kenneth Erskine (the “Stockwell Strangler”) and Jamie Devitt, intervened upon hearing Sutcliffe’s screams.
After an attack by fellow inmate Ian Kay on 10 March 1997 with a pen, Sutcliffe lost vision in his left eye, and his right eye was severely damaged. Kay admitted he had tried to kill Sutcliffe, and was ordered to be detained in a secure mental hospital without a time limit.
In 2003, reports surfaced that Sutcliffe had developed diabetes.
Sutcliffe’s father died in 2004 and was cremated. On 17 January 2005 Sutcliffe was allowed to visit Grange over Sands where the ashes had been scattered. The decision to allow the temporary release was initiated by David Blunkett and later ratified by Charles Clarke when he took over the role of Home Secretary. Sutcliffe was accompanied by four members of the hospital staff. Despite the passage of 25 years since the Ripper murders, Sutcliffe’s visit was still the focus of front-page tabloid headlines.
On 22 December 2007, Sutcliffe was attacked again. Fellow inmate Patrick Sureda lunged at him with a metal cutlery knife. Sutcliffe flung himself backwards and the blade missed his right eye, instead stabbing him in the cheek.
On 17 February 2009, it was reported that Sutcliffe was “fit to leave Broadmoor”. On 23 March 2010, the Secretary of State for Justice, then Jack Straw, was questioned by Julie Kirkbride, Conservative MP for Bromsgrove, in the House of Commons. Kirkbride was seeking reassurance for one of her constituents, a victim of Sutcliffe, that he would remain in prison. Straw responded, stating that whilst the matter of Sutcliffe’s release was a parole board matter, “that all the evidence that I have seen on this case, and it’s a great deal, suggests to me that there are no circumstances in which this man will be released”
2010 appeal and High Court decision
Sutcliffe – More like a yorkie bar than yorkshire ripper
An application by Sutcliffe for a minimum term to be set (offering the possibility of parole after that date if it’s thought safe to release him) was heard by the High Court of Justice on 16 July 2010. The High Court decided that Peter Sutcliffe will never be released. Mr Justice Mitting stated:
“This was a campaign of murder which terrorised the population of a large part of Yorkshire for several years. The only explanation for it, on the jury’s verdict, was anger, hatred and obsession. Apart from a terrorist outrage, it is difficult to conceive of circumstances in which one man could account for so many victims.”