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7 facts about Peter Sutcliffe, the Yorkshire Ripper

Peter Sutcliffe leaves the Isle of Wight Crown Court
Image Credit: Mike Walker / Alamy Stock Photo | Above: Peter Sutcliffe leaves the Isle of Wight Crown Court in Newport after giving evidence against James Costello who was accused of attacking him in Parkhurst Prison in 1983

Peter Sutcliffe’s crimes took place over 40 years ago but his notoriety remains as strong as ever. Known as the Yorkshire Ripper, his case became a media circus that also brought up a lot of social discussions about policing and the protection of sex workers.

Here we’re looking at some of the facts about Sutcliffe’s life and his murders.

1. At least 13 women murdered

Peter Sutcliffe, or the Yorkshire Ripper as the media named him, was responsible for the murders of at least 13 women and girls. His crimes took place between 1975 and 1980 and began with 28-year-old Wilma McCann, a sex worker and mother. The murders quickly became headline news and a huge manhunt followed as the police attempted to find the serial killer.

2. Police interviews and arrest

Years of hunting took place before Peter Sutcliffe was finally caught. He was arrested on 2nd January 1981 after he was discovered in a car with fake number plates and accompanied by a sex worker called Olivia Reivers. On searching the vehicle and area the police found a knife and hammer hidden nearby.

Prior to this, Sutcliffe had already been questioned several times as he regularly drove through Bradford’s red-light district. The police also questioned him as they found a £5 note in a victim’s purse which could be traced back to his workplace. However, his wife provided him with an alibi and no further questions were asked.

3. Confession and diminished responsibility

Peter Sutcliffe was questioned and interrogated for days before he made a confession. During his interrogation, the police recorded him saying: ‘It’s all right, I know what you’re leading up to. The Yorkshire Ripper. It’s me. I killed all those women.’

Despite his confession, Sutcliffe only pleaded guilty to manslaughter as he claimed he was on a mission from God to kill sex workers and ‘clean up the streets’. However, his killing spree involved victims who weren’t sex workers so his argument didn’t hold any weight in court. He had hoped to be convicted of the lesser crime of manslaughter due to diminished responsibility, but he was instead found guilty of murdering 13 women and attempting to murder seven more.

4. Suspected number of victims

While Peter Sutcliffe was found guilty on 13 counts of murder and seven counts of attempted murder, police suspected he may have killed another victim and attempted to kill two more.

5. Guilty of murder

Sutcliffe’s protestations that he heard voices or was driven by God to commit his crimes did not influence the jury. They found him guilty and he received 20 concurrent life sentences. Throughout his sentence, Sutcliffe spent time in secure hospitals and high-security prisons, including Broadmoor Hospital and HMP Parkhurst.

6. Whole life order

While his original sentence was 20 concurrent life sentences, this was changed to a whole life order in 2010. He could potentially have been freed in 2011 on his original sentencing but the High Court issued a whole life tariff ensuring he was never released. While in prison he had admitted to further attacks, though the victims remained anonymous. As a serial killer considered ‘beyond redemption’, seeing out his days in prison was the recommendation.

7. Death in 2020

Peter Sutcliffe died on 13th November 2020 at the University Hospital of North Durham aged 74. He had been serving his sentence at HMP Frankland at the time and was treated for a suspected heart attack two weeks before his death. He had a range of health problems and refused treatment for COVID-19.