The Yorkshire Ripper Files

I remember as a student being woken by the radio alarm to news that police had finally arrested the Yorkshire Ripper – after long six years of hunting him.

Milgarth Police Station, Leeds. By Mtaylor848

That was 1981. Big news. The murderer had spread fear across the North of England with his cowardly, obscene hammer attacks on women.

The media had started by loyally reporting police efforts to catch the culprit, but this switched to doubts and criticism. Politicians turned on the police. The Reclaim the Night campaign was launched in Leeds in 1977 by women angry that police were telling them to stay home at night.

Film-maker Liza Williams

A new three-part BBC4 documentary, The Yorkshire Ripper Files: A Very British Crime Story, revisits these events. It evokes well the horror and tragedy of the time

The opening episode begins with the murder of mother-of-four Wilma McCann in 1975. Her son Robert, then just a little boy, recalls going to look for her with his siblings early in the morning.

The series, made by film-maker Liza Williams, places the victims at the heart of its account. She meets survivors of Peter Sutcliffe’s attacks as well as other relatives.

Sutcliffe interviewed nine times

It’s an atmospheric documentary, a thought-provoking look at an investigation that went badly wrong.

As far as I can see in episode one there are no great surprises. The bias and disbelief shown by police towards some of the victims, the fact that Sutcliffe eluded serious suspicion despite being interviewed nine times, and the blunders are fairly well known.

However, with it use of archive footage and telling interviews, the series is a powerful depiction of a case that changed the way police investigations are conducted for good. It also makes the point strongly that societal prejudices helped Sutcliffe to evade justice for so long.

He killed at least 13 women and attacked eight others. I say ‘at least’ because some observers suspect he killed more than that.

The Yorkshire Ripper Files: A Very British Crime Story BBC4 Tuesday 26 March

3 thoughts on “The Yorkshire Ripper Files

  1. I lived in Bradford at the time of the murders and this man did affect my life as I used to be an Avon rep and was often out late at night. Any women in Yorkshire at this time will also have been effected. I have read books on Sutcliffe as I was interested to read about the man who did affect my life. I was sexually assaulted in Bowling Park in March I think 1970 but the man was never caught. When I saw a picture of Sutcliffe I was convinced he was the man who assaulted me. He didn’t deserve to live and should have been hanged. I now live in Australia.

    • Many thanks for sharing your experience. The attack you suffered must have been awful, but to then have to work as an Avon rep during the height of the manhunt must have been incredibly intimidating. There is a book (Yorkshire Ripper: The Secret Murders) that argues that Sutcliffe was active years before 1975, so your belief that he attacked you is certainly possible.

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