Watchdog: Yorkshire Ripper should not have been chained up as he died

Yorkshire Ripper should not have been chained up as he lay dying and should have been able to speak to ex-wife Sonia, prison watchdog says of serial killer who murdered 13 women and tried to kill seven more

  • Peter Sutcliffe died at HMP Frankland from Covid and heart disease in 2020
  • Prison ombudsman Sue McAllister criticised the use of restraints on him
  • Ombudsman report also found that Sutcliffe, who went by the name Peter Coonan, was not able to call his next of kin – his ex-wife Sonia – before he died

Peter Sutcliffe murdered 13 women and tried to take the lives of seven more in a six-year killing spree

The Yorkshire Ripper should not have been kept in chains and should have been able to call him ex-wife as he lay dying, a prison watchdog has said.  

Peter Sutcliffe, who murdered 13 women and tried to take the lives of seven more in a six-year killing spree, died at HMP Frankland from a combination of Covid-19 and heart disease in November 2020. 

The Ripper had refused hospital treatment, telling staff there was ‘no point’ in ‘to-ing and fro-ing’ between prison and medical facilities, an ombudsman report has revealed.

Sutcliffe, who was blind and used a wheelchair, was convicted in 1981 and spent three decades at the high-security psychiatric hospital Broadmoor Hospital before being moved to HMP Frankland in 2016.

Prison ombudsman Sue McAllister raised concerns that Sutcliffe had an eight hour wait for secure transport back to the prison after being discharged from hospital.

She also criticised the use of restraints on him – and a delay by staff in removing them when instructed to do so.

The report also found that Sutcliffe, who went by the name Peter Coonan, was not able to call his next of kin – his ex-wife Sonia – before he died.

The report states: ‘Although most of the prison’s liaison with Mr Coonan’s next of kin was of a good standard, we are disappointed that he could not talk directly with his next of kin when he was dying and that prison staff had to act as messengers for their personal messages.’

Ms McAllister recommended the prison governor should ensure staff allow a dying prisoner direct contact with their next of kin or family member via mobile phone.

The report found that on October 28, 2020, he was sent to hospital after a scan found problems in his heart and he was fitted with a pacemaker and discharged.

Peter Sutcliffe is taken to Frimley Park Hospital from Broadmoor Hospital for eye blindness treatment, Frimley, Surrey, September 2015

Sutcliffe tested positive for Covid-19 at prison on November 4 and spent more time in hospital on November 8 and 9 due to concerns about low oxygen in his blood.

He was vomiting and also had diarrhoea, but on both occasions he was discharged after is condition improved.

Could the Ripper have killed more victims?

A report completed shortly after he was given 20 life sentences found that Peter Sutcliffe could have been responsible for a further 13 offences.

And he said he was questioned in prison about 16 unsolved cases – although no further charges were ever brought.

West Yorkshire Police reviewed historical cases linked to Sutcliffe in the 1982 Byford Report and confirmed in 2016 that officers had visited a small number of people named in the report, but later announced they had no plans to charge him with further matters.

The report, written by Sir Lawrence Byford about the flawed Ripper investigation, was completed in 1982 but only made public in 2006.

It said there was an ‘unexplained lull’ in Sutcliffe’s criminal activities between 1969, when he first came to the police’s attention, and the first officially recognised Ripper assault in 1975. 

In 2017, Sutcliffe wrote a letter to ITV News Calendar presenter Christine Talbot, in which he said he had never attacked or murdered any men.

On November 10, Sutcliffe was asked if he wanted moving back to hospital but told staff ‘there’s no point as all the toing and froing isn’t helping him or doctors’.

But the prison GP spoke with a hospital consultant and agreed that he should be moved there as his kidney function had deteriorated.

He was moved to hospital and the heads of security and operations and healthcare staff at the prison agreed restraints wouldn’t be required due to his condition.

But the on-call manager of the Long-Term and High Security Estate Group rejected this and ordered an escort chain be used.

Ms McAllister wrote: ‘We are concerned that healthcare staff did not include crucial information about Mr Coonan’s medical condition in the escort risk assessment, which meant that the authorising managers in the Category A Team were unable to make informed decisions on whether it was justified to restrain him.

‘We are also concerned that when hospital doctors were giving Mr Coonan end of life care, the decision to remove Mr Coonan’s restraints took too long and that escorting officers did not remove the restraints promptly after an authorising manager gave verbal permission to do so.’

Sutcliffe’s killing spree began in October 1975 with 28-year-old mother-of-four Wilma McCann, who was hit with a hammer and stabbed 15 times.

He was interviewed nine times during the course of a huge investigation but continued to avoid arrest and was able to carry on killing.

Over the next five years, Sutcliffe claimed the lives of 12 more innocent women before finally being apprehended by police in Sheffield for driving with false number plates.

He was convicted in 1981 and spent three decades at the high-security psychiatric hospital Broadmoor Hospital before being moved to HMP Frankland in 2016.

Sutcliffe, a former lorry driver from Bradford, West Yorkshire, is said to have refused treatment for Covid-19 and to have also been dealing with several other health problems.

On the day of his death, West Yorkshire Police apologised for the ‘language, tone and terminology’ used in the 1970s to describe some of the killer’s victims.

THE YORKSHIRE RIPPER’S REIGN OF TERROR: A TIMELINE OF HIS MURDERS 

Photograph of Peter Sutcliffe an English serial killer who was dubbed the ‘Yorkshire Ripper’ by the press

Sutcliffe, who lived in Bradford, West Yorkshire, believed he was on a ‘mission from God’ to kill prostitutes, although not all his victims were.

His other victims, aged between 16 and 47, included two university students, a civil servant, a bank clerk and a supermarket worker.

Sutcliffe was dubbed the Yorkshire Ripper because he mutilated his victims using a screw driver, hammer and knife.

He was also convicted of seven counts of attempted murder in and around Yorkshire, Lancashire and Greater Manchester.

Timeline:

Summer 1975: Peter Sutcliffe begins attacking women, two in Keighley and one in Halifax. All three survive and police do not link the attacks.

30 October 1975: Sutcliffe carries out his first fatal attack on Wilma McCann, a 28-year-old prostitute from the Chapeltown district of Leeds.

20 January 1976: He murders Emily Jackson, 42, from Leeds, battering her with a hammer and stabbing her with a screwdriver.

5 February 1977: He kills Irene Richardson, 28, another prostitute from Leeds.

23 April 1977: Sutcliffe strikes for the first time in his home town of Bradford, murdering 32-year-old Patricia Atkinson.

26 June 1977: The case comes to the attention of the national press after Sutcliffe murders Jayne MacDonald, a 16-year-old shop assistant. The murder, and the realisation that a serial killer is on the loose in Yorkshire, shocks the country.

The attacker is dubbed the Yorkshire Ripper by the press, and West Yorkshire Chief Constable Ronald Gregory appoints his most senior detective, Assistant Chief Constable George Oldfield, to investigate the murders.

1 October 1977: Sutcliffe chooses Manchester for his next attack – on Jean Jordan, 20. He dumps her body on an allotment and throws her bag, containing a brand new £5 note he gave her, into nearby shrubs.

Police find the bag and trace the serial number on the note back to the payroll of Yorkshire hauliers T and W H Clark, who employ Peter Sutcliffe.

Sutcliffe is interviewed by police but provides an alibi placing him at a party.

21 January to 16 May 1978: Sutcliffe murders three prostitutes – Yvonne Pearson, 21, from Bradford; Helen Rytka, 18, from Huddersfield, and 40-year-old Vera Millward from Manchester.

4 April 1979: Sutcliffe kills Halifax Building Society clerk Josephine Whitaker, 19.

June 1979: A tape is sent to police by a man calling himself Jack the Ripper, who has already sent a series of hand-written letters from Sunderland. Assistant Chief Constable Oldfield mistakenly decides that these are the work of the Ripper. Wearside Jack, as he becomes known, is pinpointed to the Castletown district of Sunderland by voice experts. Detectives are told they can discount suspects who do not have a Wearside accent.

July 1979: Police interview Sutcliffe for the fifth time. Detective Constables Andrew Laptew and Graham Greenwood are suspicious but their report is filed because his voice and handwriting do not fit the letters and tape.

Officers carry out a fingertip search on an area of waste ground as part of the Ripper investigation in 1979. The probe dominated the nation’s consciousness for years 

2 September 1979: Sutcliffe murders Barbara Leach, 20, in Bradford.

2 October 1979: A £1million campaign is launched to catch the Yorkshire Ripper.

20 August 1980: The Ripper claims another victim, Marguerite Walls, 47, from Leeds, followed by Jacqueline Hill, 20, a Leeds University student, on November 17.

November 1980: Detective Chief Superintendent James Hobson replaces Oldfield. Hobson downgrades the importance of the Wearside Jack tape and letters.

3 January 1981: Sutcliffe admits he is the Yorkshire Ripper after police arrest him with a prostitute. Police admit the killer does not have a Wearside accent. 

22 May 1981: Sutcliffe is jailed for life at the Old Bailey. The judge recommends a minimum sentence of 30 years. He is transferred to Broadmoor secure hospital in Berkshire in 1984.

24 May 1989: Wife of Sutcliffe wins damages.

21 March 2006: John Humble, a former builder, is sentenced to eight years in prison after he admits to being the Yorkshire Ripper hoaxer known as Wearside Jack.

1 June 2006: A report which has been kept secret for nearly 25 years reveals that Sutcliffe probably committed more crimes than the 13 murders and seven attempted murders for which he was convicted. 

April 2017: Sutcliffe is questioned by police officers over 17 unsolved cases that bear similarities to his past crimes. He is not being investigated over any murders and it is unknown which of the incidents police think are linked to the serial killer. 

May 2017: Sutcliffe is investigated over the murders of two women in Sweden. Detectives are said to have enquired about the murders of a 31-year-old woman found dead in Gothenburg in August 1980, and a 26-year-old woman found dead in Malmo a month later. Both bodies were found on building sites. 

Butchered but never forgotten  

Wilma McCann

Wilma McCann

Age: 28

Killed on: October 30, 1975 

The Ripper’s first victim, a mother of four from Chapeltown in Leeds who was murdered just yards from her home on October 30, 1975. Sutcliffe battered the prostitute to death with a hammer before stabbing her in the neck, chest and stomach.

He told police: ‘After that first time, I developed and played up a hatred for prostitutes in order to justify within myself a reason why I had attacked and killed her.’

Her son Richard was five when she was killed. ‘I was convinced as a child, having had no therapy, that he was out there and that he was going to kill me,’ he said yesterday.

Emily Jackson

Emily Jackson

Age: 42

Killed on: January 20, 1976 

Eleven weeks after murdering Wilma, Sutcliffe butchered Emily, a mother-of-three from Morley, Leeds, on January 20, 1976.

She began working part-time as a prostitute when husband Sydney’s roofing business fell into financial difficulties. Sutcliffe pretended his car would not start when he picked her up and battered her twice with a hammer as she offered to help.

He dragged her body into a yard and used a screwdriver to viciously stab her 52 times in the neck, breasts, lower abdomen and back. He stamped on her leg so hard he left a boot print on her thigh 

Irene Richardson

Irene Richardson

Age: 28

Killed on: February 5, 1977

Another prostitute Sutcliffe picked up, he attacked her in Roundhay Park, Leeds, where they had stopped so she could go to the toilet. As she crouched down, the killer delivered three heavy blows to her head with a hammer, then he tore open her jacket and blouse and began to stab and slash her with his Stanley knife.

Patricia Atkinson

Patricia Atkinson

Age: 32

Killed on: April 23, 1977  

Divorcee Patricia — a prostitute commonly known as Tina — was to be Sutcliffe’s first victim in his home city of Bradford. She was murdered on April 24, 1977.

She and Sutcliffe had been drinking in a nearby pub before travelling in his car to her flat, where he inflicted four blows to the back of her head with a hammer.

He then stabbed the mother-of-three multiple times in the stomach, covering her body with bed linen and leaving behind a boot print on a bloodstained sheet at the scene..

Jayne MacDonald

Jayne MacDonald

Age: 16

Killed on: April 23, 1977 

The teenage shop assistant was attacked by Sutcliffe as she walked home from a night out in Leeds on June, 26, 1977, after she had missed the last bus.

He struck her with a hammer on the back of a head before stabbing her in the chest and back.

Her body was later found in an adventure playground by two children.

As the youngest victim in the spate of murders, her case attracted national attention. Her vicious killer was nicknamed the Yorkshire Ripper for the first time. 

Jean Jordan

Jean Jordan

Age: 20

Killed on: October 1, 1977 

The Yorkshire Ripper struck again on October 1, 1977 , killing the mother-of-two from Manchester.

It was the first time he had targeted a victim outside West Yorkshire.

Having picked up Jean in the redlight district, he attacked her with a hammer in allotments, dumping her body and throwing her bag, containing a brand new £5 note he gave her, into shrubs. Police traced the serial number on the note to hauliers T. and W.H. Clark, where Sutcliffe worked. Interviewed twice by police, he said he was at a housewarming party at the time. 

Yvonne Pearson

Yvonne Pearson

Age: 21

Killed on: January 21, 1978 

The young prostitute from Bradford who was murdered between January 20 and March 26, 1978.

He took the mother-of-two to waste ground, beat her with a hammer and then hid her body under a sofa.

He had stuffed horse hair from the sofa into her mouth to ensure she did not make a noise as he kicked her in the head and jumped on her chest.

Yvonne’s body would not be found for two months. 

Helen Rytka

Helen Rytka

Age: 18

Killed on: January 18, 1978 

Taken into care after the break-up of her parents’ marriage, Helen was soliciting in Huddersfield when Sutcliffe picked her up on January 31, 1978.

As she climbed out of his vehicle, he struck her on the head five times, stripped off her clothes and then stabbed her in the chest. Her body was later found under railway arches in a timber yard.

Helen and her twin sister Rita had lived in Huddersfield for only two months after leaving Bradford due to their concern over the Ripper murders. 

Vera Millward

Vera Millward

Age: 40

Killed on: May 16, 1978 

Mother-of-seven Vera was killed on May 16, 1978, after being driven to a car park at Manchester Royal Infirmary.

As the sex worker got out of the car, Sutcliffe attacked her with a hammer before stabbing her with a knife.

Although Vera was very frail and had only one lung — she had had numerous operations — she fought back before she was killed. A man heard screams from the hospital grounds, which he assumed had come from a hospital patient. 

Josephine Whitaker

Josephine Whitaker 

Age: 19

Killed on: April 4, 1979 

The building society worker from Halifax was killed on April 4, 1979, as she walked home after visiting her grandparents.

Her grandmother had been at a church party and returned home late. Josephine was invited to stay the night but decided to walk home as she had work the next day.

Leaving at 11.40pm, she headed through a park where Sutcliffe hit her from behind with a hammer, fracturing her skull from ear to ear. Using a screwdriver, he then stabbed her 21 times. 

Barbara Leach

Barbara Leach

Age: 20

Killed on: September 20, 1979 

Murdered on September 1, 1979, university student Barbara had been in the pub with friends and stayed after closing time to help the landlord collect empties.

As she walked home through Bradford, Sutcliffe pulled over in his car and attacked her with a hammer, before stabbing her with the same screwdriver that he had used on Josephine.

He stuffed her body underneath the steps leading up to her back door. Once again, he was interviewed by police but was not flagged as a suspect. 

Marguerite Walls

Marguerite Walls

Age: 47

Killed on: August 20, 1980

A civil servant, Marguerite was murdered on August 20, 1980.

She worked at the  Department of Education and Science office in the town of Pudsey, near Leeds, and had been working late to make up some extra hours before going away on holiday the next day.

Leaving the office to walk the halfmile home, she was spotted by Sutcliffe who stopped his car and attacked her with a hammer, then strangled her with rope. Her almost naked body was found in a garden, partially covered with leaves. 

Jacqueline Hill

Jacqueline Hill

Age: 20

Killed on: November 17, 1980  

The 13th and final known victim of the Ripper was student Jacqueline, who was murdered on November 16, 1980.

She was in the third year of her English degree at Leeds University and had been at a seminar in the city centre, catching a bus back to her halls of residence at 9pm.

Walking the final 100 yards she was followed by Sutcliffe, who hit her on the head and stabbed her.

She suffered four skull fractures. The then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher had to be talked out of travelling to Leeds to take charge of the investigation.

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