Tim Tate

Author, Film-Maker & Investigative Journalist


The Truth Shall Make You Free Fret



The six-year hunt for the Yorkshire Ripper was marred throughout by systemic and individual failures within West Yorkshire Police.   Two official investigations (paid for by the public purse) heavily criticised the force; in 1982, the then Home Secretary, William Whitelaw told the House of Commons that he hoped the police would learn lessons.


Thirty-three years later that hope remains significantly unfulfilled.  And the Ripper case remains shrouded in a disturbing official secrecy.


In June this year, my colleague Chris Clark and I published results of a three-year-long investigation into 23 unsolved murders (and numerous attempted murders). Our book – Yorkshire Ripper: The Secret Murders – presented a clear and detailed case that Peter Sutcliffe was the most likely perpetrator. Together with his proven victims, these additional cases would bring his tally to 36 murders and 16 attempted murders, making him Britain’s second worst serial killer, behind Dr. Harold Shipman.


Chris is a former police intelligence officer. He has devoted a substantial part of his retirement to re-investigating cold cases. His patient digging unearthed compelling evidence that the Sutcliffe had the means, motive and opportunity to carry out these attacks. He was able to place Sutcliffe at or near the scene of the crimes around the dates and times when they happened.


Our book also showed how the methodology used in these unsolved killings and attempted killings matched many of the hallmarks of the proven Ripper murders.   In each case there was not just one match, but several: too many for them to have been a coincidence.


There were two other remarkable aspects to this disturbing list of long-cold cases. The first was the sheer scope of the attacks: they took place all over England – in London and the Midlands as well as the known Ripper killing grounds of Yorkshire and Manchester); they dated back to the mid-1960s; and two of the victims were men.  Put together this presented a radically different version of the conventional Yorkshire Ripper story.


But that conventional story, spun by West Yorkshire Police and Sutcliffe himself back in 1981, has always been distinctly implausible. And in that implausibility lay our second remarkable discovery.


Much – too much – of the Yorkshire Ripper story has been shrouded in secrecy. Much – far too much – of it has taken place behind closed doors and away from public view.


From the outset there was a shabby deal made by the police, the Director of Public Prosecutions and Sutcliffe’s defence lawyers to accept his unsupported claims to have heard voices instructing him to kill prostitutes. Only the intervention of the trial judge ensured that a jury decided whether the Ripper was mad or bad. They decided he was bad.


Three years later the prison service decided to ignore this finding. It transferred him – in secret – to the relative comfort of Broadmoor Psychiatric Hospital, where he has remained (at almost ten times the annual cost of keeping him in a regular prison) ever since.


But it was the subsequent actions of the Home Office and the police which have most cynically undermined the concepts of justice being both done and being seen to be done.   Three separate official investigations have warned that Sutcliffe almost certainly carried out many more attacks than those for which he was committed.


In October 1981, an internal report by Colin Sampson then Assistant Chief Constable of West Yorkshire Police, pointed at Sutcliffe as the likely perpetrator of “a number of similar attacks on women since 1966 in west Yorkshire [which] remain undetected”.  The report was suppressed, with only a redacted version eventually emerging. Today it remains secret


By the turn of the year, Lawrence Byford of Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary delivered the results of his enquiry to the Home Secretary. It stated baldly:


“It is my firm conclusion that between 1969 and 1980 was probably responsible for many attacks on women, which he has not admitted, not only in West Yorkshire and Manchester but also in other parts of the country.


Byford’s report – paid for by the taxpayer – was kept secret until 2006. Even when this suppression was lifted, the details of these other unsolved Yorkshire Ripper attacks and murders were redacted. They remain under official lock and key.


West Yorkshire Police knows exactly who these victims were. In the 1990s, its then Assistant Chief Constable (later Chief Constable) Keith Hellawell painstakingly investigated 78 unsolved cases from all over the country. He finally decided that 22 of these should be laid at the door of Peter Sutcliffe.     Sutcliffe eventually admitted two of them. But the Director of Pubic Prosecutions decided it was “not in the public interest” for any further charges to be brought.  The DPP’s office has never explained how it reached this conclusion.


Hellawell’s report, like those which preceded it, was never published. Today, it sits in the filing cabinets of West Yorkshire Police: the Force resolutely refuses to release its details.


Chris devoted three years to uncovering those unsolved crimes. Using surviving public records and dogged detective work he was able to identify the victims. In many cases he spoke with those who had survived and the families of those who were murdered: each said the same thing – they wanted a full and publicly transparent police investigation and for Sutcliffe’s guilt or innocence to be established once and for all.


By contrast, West Yorkshire Police refused every single request submitted under the Freedom of Information Act. It was determined not to release any information.


Our book was serialised in the Daily Mail; we also gave a succession of radio and television interviews detailing its findings.   We challenged West Yorkshire Police – which maintains a stranglehold on all Yorkshire Ripper casework and investigation – to dispute our findings: it did not give any interviews.


Instead it issued a press statement, claiming that it was “continuing with an on-going process to review ‘legacy’ (historic) documents including material relating to the Yorkshire Ripper”.


But what exactly does that mean ?   In August I submitted a Freedom of Information Act request asking how many officers have been involved in this “on-going process” over the past 12 months; how many new interviews with eye-witnesses, relatives or alleged survivors had been carried out; and how much this had cost.


West Yorkshire Police refused to provide answers to these questions. It claimed that to do so would take more than 18 hours: the Freedom of Information Act allows public bodies to refuse requests on this basis.


It did, however, offer to state how many new interviews had been conducted. But when I re-submitted that request, the Force reversed the previous offer and refused even to confirm whether it held the information. It claimed that:


“To confirm or deny whether we have or haven’t conducted new interviews with eyewitnesses, relatives or alleged survivors could directly jeopardise West Yorkshire police’s ability to sufficiently review a high profile case, which would hinder the prevention and detection of crime.”


Secrecy is, apparently, still the order of the day.


But is West Yorkshire Police genuinely attempting to re-investigate these unsolved cases ?   Some of the victims and relatives who have received visits from its detectives say that whilst the Force wrings its hands, apologises for all the mistakes made in the past and accepts that there is evidence pointing to Peter Sutcliffe as the likely perpetrator, it also holds out no hope of ever bringing new charges.


Our book details 23 murders and seven attempted murders. All of them bear the hallmarks of the Yorkshire Ripper. All of them were investigated by Keith Hellawell: his evidence and conclusions are held by West Yorkshire Police.   It has all the evidence it needs to prosecute.  If it won’t do so, it has no business keeping this information from the public who paid for it, much less denying it to those who suffered at his hands.


There is simply no excuse for the continuing secrecy surrounding the Yorkshire Ripper and these unsolved cold cases. There is no legitimate reason for the Sampson, Byford and Hellawell reports to remain secret.


West Yorkshire Police, the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Home Office all have long and tawdry histories of suppressing this evidence.  The entire prosecution and trial record, held at the National Archives, is closed until at least 2045. As the law stands there is little or no prospect of forcing them to come clean.


Worse, the politician who put the Freedom of Information Act on the statute book now argues that this was a mistake: In his memoirs Tony Blair called the Act one of his biggest regrets because of its being used not by “the people” but by journalists who use it as a “weapon”.


In July David Cameron’s government announced a review of the Act to decide whether it is too expensive and intrusive.     For government and official bodies that is – not for the people who pay for them and in whose name they govern.


Quis custodiet ipsos custodes ? *    Those who rule and those who police us would like the answer to be:  no-one.



* Translation: “Who will guard the Guards themselves ?” Satires by Juvenal, 1st Century Roman poet

Posted on