When he died on November 13, 2000, it’s hard to imagine there were many shedding tears of sorrow at Peter Sutcliffe’s passing.
He was 74 and breathed his last at the University Hospital of North Durham, where he had been admitted with Covid-19, just a fortnight after being treated there for a suspected heart attack.
At the subsequent inquest, coroner Crispin Oliver stated: “Peter Sutcliffe is now dead, he died a natural death having received good medical care.
“Obviously I think of his family at this time, but (my thoughts) also return to those women whose names I read out at the opening of this inquest last November – they were his victims. My continuing best wishes go to their families, loved ones and friends.
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“Speaking to the victims’ families, loved ones and friends, I hope you have some sense of closure at this point and that your loved ones, the victims, may better rest in peace now that Peter Sutcliffe is dead.”
It would be wonderful to think that that is the case, but there are many for whom his death will have brought back horrible memories of the worst part of their life, a nightmare from which it is impossible to awaken. And then there are those unlikely to ever receive closure – a group believed to be Sutcliffe victims, but who are not counted among the 13 confirmed murders for which he was serving a whole life tariff at the time of his death, or of seven attacks on other women who survived their ordeal.
Among them is Mo Lea from Bedford, who believes Sutcliffe was responsible for attacking her with a hammer when she was studying art in 1980 in Leeds; she was named as a probable victim in a report by Sir Lawrence Byford which highlighted 12 other offences the man dubbed The Yorkshire Ripper could have committed before he was apprehended in 1981.
She marked the 40th anniversary of his incarceration by projecting an animated version of Lady Justice, the famous statue atop the Old Bailey, onto the House of Parliament. She said of the work: “The art projection raises the question, asking what progress has been made in the police and legal systems to support women who have been victims of violent attacks. This represents the negative imbalance of justice towards women.”
West Yorkshire Police’s investigation has been criticised in the years since, not least in the excellent BBC Four documentary series The Yorkshire Ripper Files: A Very British Crime Story.
Now this two-part programme is covering very similar ground by taking a closer look at the missed opportunities to charge Sutcliffe for crimes committed before his supposed spree began in 1975. It also examines the cases of suspected victims, beginning with the murders of Judith Roberts in 1972 and Carol Wilkinson five years later. Both bore Ripper trademarks, but two innocent men were charged with their killings.
The concluding episode airs on Thursday and highlights more police mistakes, including other crimes with clear links to Sutcliffe, and the incarceration of a third innocent man.
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