The tale of two Rippers – in Sutcliffe’s own words to police and doctors

The Guardian, May 6 1981
with Alan Rusbridger

The Attorney General, Sir Michael Havers, opened the case for the Crown against Peter Sutcliffe by telling the jury of six men and six women why it was necessary for them to be present.

The defendant had pleaded guilty to seven attempted murders and these pleas had been accepted by the court. He had also pleaded guilty to 13 counts of manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility, but these had not been accepted.

The key to the whole matter lay in section two of the 1957 Homicide Act. This ruled that a defendant should be found guilty of manslaughter if he was suffering from such a mental abnormality arising from arrested or retarded development or any inherent, disease or injury, that his mental responsibility was substantially impaired.

All the doctors who had examined Mr Sutcliffe since his arrest agreed that he was a paranoid schizophrenic. “This is an abnormality of the mind which, in the view of the doctors, substantially impairs his mental responsibility for his acts, namely murder,” Sir Michael said.

But the doctors’ opinions were not binding on the jury. They were based entirely on the version of events given to them by Mr Sutcliffe which was in marked and substantial conflict with that given to the police after his arrest.

Sir Michael said : “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. You have to decide whether, as a clever, callous murderer, he deliberately set out to create a cock-and-bull story so as to avoid a conviction for murder.”

He told the jury of the first occasion on which Mr Sutcliffe had told a psychiatrist about his alleged reasons for killing. “He said, in short that he had messages from God to kill prostitutes and that what he was doing was a divine mission” said Sir Michael.

It was on March 5, during the eighth of 11 interviews with Mr Sutcliffe, that Dr Hugo Milne, consultant forensic psychiatrist at Bradford Hospital, first heard a reference to the ‘divine mission.’ Mr Sutcliffe had been describing how he had killed Irene Richardson, his third victim. He concluded his description with the words: “It was important to my cause that I had to carry on with the mission.”

Dr Milne encouraged him to talk more, and Mr Sutcliffe had said: “If I was allowed out I would know it was all right. I’m here now but it might only be temporary. If I was out, the feeling would he back. It would be wrong to say I wouldn’t do it again. It would be different to say that I couldn’t.

“I know it’s wrong to kill, but if you have got a reason it’s justified and it’s alright. I have no doubts whatsoever. I wasn’t as rational then as now. If there were women around now it wouldn’t take long to get these thoughts again. The prostitutes are still there, even more on the streets now, they say. My mission is only partially fulfilled.

“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.”

Sir Michael told the jury that this was a reference to the tapes which had been received by police on which a man falsely claiming to be the Yorkshire Ripper misled officers leading the inquiry.

Mr Sutcliffe had gone on to tell Dr Milne that God had possibly decided that he should be arrested so that he could have a rest from the mental torment which went with the killing. Or perhaps God had called someone else to continue the mission. Mr Sutcliffe had said: “I have never seen God. I have heard him often.”

Sir Michael finished reading from Dr Milne’s report and told the jury: “None of that was told to the police at all. He told the police that he had urges and hallucinations but of a different kind to what he later described to the doctors.”

In his confession to police Mr Sutcliffe had mentioned only 14 of his 20 attacks on women. When he was arrested, he had not claimed that he was acting on God’s orders nor that he had a divine right to kill, said Sir Michael. “What he did, in fact, was to tell a whole cock and bull story.”

Sir Michael then described an incident which had occurred on January 8 when Mr Sutcliffe was visited in the hospital wing of Armley Prison, Leeds, by his wife, Sonia. A prison officer, Mr Leach, had been present during the visit. Mr Sutcliffe had told his wife that he was guilty. Sir Michael said: “He also said that he expected to get 30 years in prison, but —and listen to this — he said that if he could make people believe that he was mad, he would only ‘get ten years in the loony bin’.”

On April 14, another prison officer, Mr Edwards, had been talking to him on the hospital wing. “Sutcliffe was insisting to him that he was normal and he was highly amused that the doctors considered him to be disturbed,” said Sir Michael.

Sir Michael then told the jury of the activities of “the man now seated in the dock, who became known because of the killings as the Yorkshire Ripper.” His victims had all been women, varying in age from 16 to 47. Some had been prostitutes but his last six victims were not. The attacks had occurred in Manchester and five West Yorkshire cities or towns.

“His modus operandi was marked by deliberation and brutality,” said Sir Michael. Sometimes he had picked up prostitutes, driven them to quiet spots and invited them to get into the back of the car with him to have sexual intercourse. As they stooped to get in the door, he had hit them on the head with a hammer, and then repeatedly stabbed them. On other occasions, he had attacked his victims in quiet back streets.

He had often come close to being caught. “One might almost say, in happier circumstances, that he led a charmed life,” said Sir Michael. He had been seen and chased as he tried to kill Teresa Sykes in November 1980, but he had escaped. He had passed Maureen Long, whom he had tried to kill in July 1977, in the street in Bradford a few weeks before his arrest, but she had not recognised him.

Mr Sutcliffe told police that he began to resent prostitutes after one had duped him of £10 in 1969. He had also said that he had suffered headaches and bouts of depression since a motorcycle accident in 1965. But police had discovered that his account of the accident had been ’embroidered.’

He had had sex with only one of his victims, Helen Rytka.

Police finally caught him because a routine patrol found that his car was carrying false number plates. Ironically, he had stolen the plates because his car insurance had expired and, since he was expecting to be disqualified from driving in a few weeks, he had decided to tide himself over rather than go to the expense of renewing his insurance.

Sir Michael suggested to the jury that the false plates might as easily have been part of a deliberate deception. Whatever the cause of the deception, it led to his arrest and that probably saved the life of the prostitute who was with him at the time and probably the lives of many others as well, he said.

The hunt for the Yorkshire Ripper had been bedeviled by the fact that police had received a series of letters and then a cassette tape which purported to come from the killer. “Most regrettably, but possibly understandably, it then became widely accepted by a number of senior police officers that the Ripper spoke with a Wearside accent,” said Sir Michael. This had led to the elimination of many suspects on the grounds that their accent or handwriting was wrong.

The harsh truth now is that the author of those letters and that tape had nothing at all to do with these events,” added Sir Michael. “I cannot condemn too strongly this cruel hoax.”

To most of those who knew him, Mr Sutcliffe was an unremarkable man leading an unremarkable life, Sir Michael told the court. But three people had seen a different side to him: Ronald and David Barker, brothers who lived next door to Mr Sutcliffe’s parents-in-law; and Trevor Birdsall, a close friend.

The Barkers said that Mr Sutcliffe often talked about prostitutes and would drive them around ‘red light’ districts. He had once talked about “cracking a prostitute one” after she asked him for money.

Before telling the jury about Trevor Birdsall’s role, Sir Michael provided a detailed account of each of the 20 attacks. He apologised for the necessity of showing them harrowing photographs of the victims. “You will become immune to them quite quickly” he said.

The first attack had occurred in the early hours of Saturday, July 5, 1975. The victim was Anna Rogulsky, aged 34, a divorcee who had been living with a man in Bradford. She had argued with him and had spent the evening drinking in pubs and clubs. At about 1.30 .a.m. she had set off to the house she had been sharing with her boyfriend. She failed to wake him by banging on the door.

Mr Sutcliffe later told police that he had been urinating in a doorway when he spotted her. His statement to the police said: “I asked her if she fancied it. She said: ‘Not on your life.’ Then she tried the door again. I tapped her up again. She elbowed me and walked off. I followed her and hit her with a hammer and she fell over.” She was later found with two skull fractures and abrasions on her stomach. She had been taken to hospital and had made a good recovery, suffering no brain damage.

In describing this attack to police, Mr Sutcliffe had referred again to the prostitute who had duped him of £10 by saying she was going for change and then not returning. He had told police that he had approached that prostitute for sex because he wanted to ‘level the score’ with Sonia, his wife, whom he believed was having an affair with an Italian ice cream man named Antonio. Mr Sutcliffe said he had later seen the same prostitute in a Bradford pub and asked her for his £10. She had refused and joked about him in a loud voice. Mr Sutcliffe had told police: “I felt humiliated and outraged and embarrassed and felt a hatred for her and all her kind.”

His second attack took place on August 15 1975 in Halifax. His victim was Olive Smelt, aged 46, an office cleaner, who was walking home shortly before midnight after an evening’s drinking. She had realised that someone was walking beside her, had exchanged a few words about the weather and had been attacked suddenly. A passing driver had found her lying on her front with her clothes pulled apart to expose her backside.

Apart from two depressed fractures to her skull, she had two “curious abrasions” on her back, one was 12ins long and the other 4ins.

At this point Sir Michael returned to Trevor Birdsall, who had known Mr Sutcliffe since 1966. “At the back end of last year, in late November, he went to police and gave them certain information which he had been in possession of for a long time and had done nothing about.”

Mr Birdsall now said that he had been driving with Mr Sutcliffe in Bradford in 1971. Mr Sutcliffe had stopped near the ‘red light’ district and disappeared for about 10 minutes before returning with a stone and a sock in his hand. Mr Sutcliffe was later to tell police that he had seen a prostitute: “I got out of the car and asked her the time, and then I hit her with a sock with something in it.” Mr Birdsall had also told police that he had been with Mr Sutcliffe in Halifax on the night that Olive Smelt had been attacked.

Sir Michael added: “Birdsall said he was rather quiet. Sutcliffe said he had tried to chat a girl up and had not been successful. The next day Birdsall saw in the papers of the murderous attack on Olive Smelt and where it happened, but he didn’t do anything.”

Sir Michael then told the jury of the third attack — the first time in which the victim died. She was Mrs Wilma McCann, aged 27, who lived in Leeds with her four children. She was separated from her husband. Sir Michael said : “She drank too much. She was noisy and sexually promiscuous. Whether she was a prostitute is not known – there is no conviction. But she certainly distributed her favours widely.”

On October 29, 1975, she had been drinking heavily. She had been seen by two police officers on routine patrol just after 1 a.m. Six hours later a milkman saw what he thought was a bundle of rags. It was her body. She had been repeatedly stabbed in the abdomen, chest and neck. She had lacerations to her scalp, probably caused by a hammer. Mr Sutcliffe later told police that he had deliberately left her in a dishevelled state. “That’s so that when they are found they will look as cheap as they are,” he had said.

His fourth attack had also caused the death of his victim, Mrs Emily Jackson, aged 41, a prostitute who lived with her husband in Leeds. Mr Jackson had known of his wife’s activities and had given her a lift to the red light district on the night she died. Two hours later, at about 8 p.m., she was attacked. She was found the next morning by a motorist. Her body lay among rubble on a narrow pathway between two derelict buildings. Her clothes had been pulled up above her waist. She had been stabbed 52 times in her chest, abdomen and back, probably with a Phillips screwdriver. Mr Sutcliffe had later told police that he had killed her on his way home from work. He had been wearing boots, a print of which was found by police the next day. He had laid her body with a piece of wood against her vagina. He had told police: ” I may have positioned her to show her as disgusting as she was.”

The trial continues today.