Peter Sutcliffe
The Yorkshire Ripper

In 1981, Peter Sutcliffe – the Yorkshire Ripper – was sentenced to 30 years' imprisonment for a series of 13 murders and 7 attempted murders in and around West Yorkshire district over a period of 5 years, including the murders of Margaret Victoria Simpson, Olive Smelt, and Josephine Whitaker.

During the police investigation which was led by Chief Constable George Oldfield, Sutcliffe had been interviewed and eliminated 9 times.

The police wasted much time chasing a man with a Newcastle accent who had written 3 letters and recorded a tape confessing to the crimes and taunting the police. The tape was broadcast in June 1979. His accent was identified as being from the Castletown area of Sunderland, and so he became known as Wearside Jack. In the letters, he claimed responsibility for the Yorkshire Ripper's crimes.

Because the letters and the tape led police to seek someone with a Wearside accent, they diverted their attention away from the hunt for the real killer, Peter Sutcliffe, and enabled him to commit 3 further murders. In March 1979, the hoaxer sent the third and final letter – only 13 days before the real Yorkshire Ripper killed Josephine Whitaker.

Olive Smelt was the first to observe that the murderer did not have a Geordie accent.

In January 1981, Sutcliffe came under suspicion when was arrested for driving a car with false number plates in the red-light district of Sheffield.

He was tried and sentenced to 30 years' imprisonment in 1981.

He claimed to have heard voices from God, and was diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic. He was certified insane in 1983.

In 2005, it was claimed that Wearside Jack was a member of the police force. In July 2005, West Yorkshire Police said that the audio tape and letters from the hoaxer had been misplaced.

Using DNA evidence obtained from saliva in the glue on the hoax letters, new enquiries were started. In October 2005, detectives from West Yorkshire travelled to Sunderland to arrest 49-year-old John Humble on suspicion of perverting the course of justice in connection with hoax letters and the tape. In March 2006, Humble was sentenced to 8-years' imprisonment.

In January 2011, Sutcliffe – then known as Peter Coonan – lost his appeal against an order that he can never be released.

Sutcliffe died in Durham on 13th November 2020 and his body was cremated

The case highlighted several shortcomings within the Police service

© Malcolm Bull 2023
Revised 11:51 / 20th November 2023 / 4646

Page Ref: QQ_167

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