Sutcliffe: jury must judge his sanity

The Guardian, May 6 1981
with Alan Rusbridger

An Old Bailey jury was told yesterday it would have to decide whether Peter Sutcliffe was a sick man who believed God wanted him to kill prostitutes or whether he was a clever, callous murderer who had tried to feign insanity.

The two images of the Yorkshire Ripper were put to the jury of six men and six women by the Attorney General, Sir Michael Havers, during an opening speech which lasted all day.

Sir Michael said the defence view was that Mr Sutcliffe was a sick man — a paranoid schizophrenic who attacked 20 women, killing 13 of them, because he believed that he was on ‘a divine mission.’ But the Crown view, he said, was that the 34-year-old defendant was a sadistic killer who told a series of lies to police and finally opted for a ‘cock and bull story’ designed to keep him out of prison.

Sir Michael said the defence would argue that Mr Sutcliffe was guilty only of manslaughter because his illness meant he was suffering from diminished responsibility while committing the attacks between 1975 and 1980. All the doctors who had examined Mr Sutcliffe agreed he was ‘a paranoid schizophrenic’. But, Sir Michael told the jury: “You will have to consider whether the doctors might, in fact, have been deceived, whether he sought to pull the wool over their eyes – whether the doctors are just plain wrong.”

He said that Mr Sutcliffe had told his wife that he hoped to get away with “10 years in a loony bin.” The trial had been adjourned from last Wednesday, when Mr Sutcliffe pleaded guilty to 13 charges of manslaughter and seven charges of attempted murder. But he denied 13 charges of murder. The judge, Mr Justice Boreham, ruled then that a jury should decide the question of diminished responsibility.

During his four-hour speech, Sir Michael said that Mr Sutcliffe had been interviewed nine times by police before his arrest last January. The police operation had cost more than £4 million and had involved more than one million hours of police work.

He suggested that Mr Sutcliffe had made two abortive attacks on prostitutes before the Ripper attacks began in 1975. One of Mr Sutcliffe’s closest friends had failed until last November to tell police what he knew about these.

Sir Michael also confirmed that Mr Sutcliffe had not sent police the much publicised letters and cassette recordings which were believed to have come from the Yorkshire Ripper: “I cannot condemn too strongly this cruel hoax,” he said. They had bedeviled the whole police inquiry.

Mr Sutcliffe, wearing an open-necked blue shirt and light grey suit, sat surrounded by five guards, staring unresponsively ahead of him as Sir Michael spoke. Number one court was packed with journalists from all over the world, ranks of lawyers and one long row of seats reserved for the relatives of Mr Sutcliffe’s victims and for those who survived his attacks. His wife, Sonia, arrived in court with her mother.

They left a few minutes before the hearing, began after a brief conference with Mr Sutcliffe’s lawyer. Mr Kerry MacGill. Court procedure demands that prospective witnesses should not be present until they have testified.

Sir Michael told the jury that on March 5, and two months after his arrest, Mr Sutcliffe had told a psychiatrist of his ‘mission.’ He had told Dr Hugo Milne, a consultant forensic psychiatrist: “God gave me the mission to kill. He got me out of trouble. I’m in God’s hands. He misled the police. Perhaps God was involved with the tapes.” His mission was not yet finished, he said, and it would be wrong to say that he would not kill again if he was released.