Yorkshire Ripper British Police Files
326 pages of British Police and British Government files concerning the Yorkshire Ripper case, archived on
The Yorkshire Ripper case was one of the largest police investigations in the history of England. During 1969 an otherwise unremarkable young man named Peter William Sutcliffe came to the notice of the police on two occasions in connection with incidents involving prostitutes. Sutcliffe, who at that time was 23 years of age, was a native of Shipley, West Yorkshire and lived there with his parents. He was not notably abnormal, although he had gained a reputation for a rather macabre sense of humor whilst employed as a grave digger at Bingley. During his late teens he developed an unhealthy interest in prostitutes and spent a great deal of time, often in the company of his friend Trevor Birdsall, watching them soliciting on the streets of Leeds and Bradford. There is no evidence that he used the services of prostitutes at that stage although it is clear that he was fascinated by them and spent a considerable amount of time acting as a kind of voyeur. It is apparent that at some point during 1969, Sutcliffe's interest in prostitutes attained a new dimension with a desire on his part to inflict physical injury upon them. Although the police files on two incidents involving Sutcliffe during that year were destroyed some time ago as part of a perfectly legitimate "weeding" process there is no doubt that on one occasion Sutcliffe attacked a prostitute in Bradford with a cosh consisting of a large stone inside a man's sock. He had left Birdsall in his car before the incident and told him about what had happened when he returned. Surprisingly he was not charged with any offence. During the same year Sutcliffe was arrested in a prostitute area in Bradford whilst in possession of a hammer. He was not suspected by the police of having the hammer for the purpose of inflicting violence to the person and the meager police records remaining show that he was subsequently charged with "going equipped for stealing". At the time of these attacks Sutcliffe was courting Sonia Szurma whom he was to marry in 1974.
Sutcliffe was born at Shipley, West Yorkshire, on 2nd June 1946. After leaving school at the age of 15, he had a variety of unskilled and semi-skilled jobs in the Bradford area. During the period in which his admitted crimes were committed he was employed as a tire fitter, and subsequently, following qualification as a heavy goods vehicle driver, as a truck driver for the Bradford engineering and transport company, T. & W.H. Clark (Holdings) Ltd. On the 10th April 1974 he married Sonia Szurma with whom he then lived, first at her parents house in Clayton and later, from the 26th September 1977, in a detached house which he bought in the Heaton district of Bradford. At the time of his marriage Sutcliffe owned a lime green Ford Capri car with the registered number EUA 83IK.
The first of the crimes for which Sutcliffe was convicted was the attempted murder of Anna Rogulskyj in Keighley on the 5th July 1975. Sutcliffe attacked his victim with a hammer in an alleyway in Keighley and left her lying on the ground suffering from very severe head injuries and from a number of superficial slash wounds to the body. The crime was not linked with any others neither was it linked with the Ripper series until June 1978 when the West Yorkshire Police issued a "Special Notice" to all police forces about the murders which had, by then, been\ committed.
On the 15th August 1975, just over a month after the Rogulskyj incident, Sutcliffe, after leaving his friend Trevor Birdsall in his car, attacked Olive Smelt with a hammer in Boothtown, Halifax, inflicting serious head injuries. Using a knife he also inflicted two slash wounds to her back after first disarranging her clothing. Although the nature of the crime was very similar to the attempted murder of Anna Rogulskyj it was not specifically linked with it in police crime circulations, neither was it linked with the Ripper series until June 1978. In neither of these two crimes was any substantial evidence available about either the assailants or about any vehicle which might have been used.
The first murder in the series occurred on the 30th October 1975 when Sutcliffe killed Wilma McCann, a known prostitute, on the Prince Philip playing fields in Leeds. Once again, the victim was hit on the head with a hammer, one of the blows penetrating the full thickness of the skull. On this occasion, however, unlike the tentative slashings of the bodies of Rogulskyj and Smelt,
McCann was stabbed once in the neck and 14 times in the chest and abdomen. In what was to become a standard Ripper trademark, McCann's clothing had been disturbed so that before the stab wounds were inflicted the whole of her torso was displayed. The opinion of the pathologist was that the victim had been struck with the hammer whilst in a standing position and that the subsequent injuries were inflicted as she lay disabled and unconscious on the ground. This too was to become part of Sutcliffe's standard method of operation.
Sutcliffe would eventually be convicted of attacking 17 more women, killing 12, that took place over the next 5 years.
On 2nd January 1981 Sutcliffe was seen by the police whilst in the company of a prostitute in the "red light" area of Sheffield. He was arrested for an offence of theft of car number plates, detected because a check with the Police National Computer indicated that his vehicle did not match the vehicle to which the number plates displayed on it were allocated. Some 24 hours after his arrest the arresting officer, having been advised to consider the possibility that Sutcliffe might have connections with the Ripper crimes, returned to the scene of the arrest and there recovered a hammer and knife which Sutcliffe had disposed of whilst allegedly urinating nearby. An additional knife was later recovered from the cistern of a toilet in Hammerton Road Police Station where Sutcliffe had hidden it following his arrest. From that point onwards, although on the basis of his record card in the Millgarth incident room it might still have been possible for him to have been eliminated on accent and handwriting grounds, the finding of the hammer and the two knives prompted members of the West Yorkshire inquiry team into thinking that Sutcliffe was the man they were looking for. Thereafter he soon began to admit the crimes with which he was subsequently charged and gave a detailed statement to the interviewing officers.
On Friday, 22nd May 1981, Peter William Sutcliffe was convicted at the Central Criminal Court of 13 cases of murder and 7 cases of attempted murder and sentenced to 20 concurrent terms of life imprisonment, with a recommendation that he should serve a minimum of 30 years.
Despite being found sane at his trial, he was soon diagnosed as suffering from schizophrenia. Attempts to send him to a secure psychiatric unit were initially blocked. In 1984 Sutcliffe was finally sent to Broadmoor hospital, under Section 47 of the Mental Health Act 1983.
HOME OFFICE FILES
147 pages of Home Office files from 1980. Contains notes concerning changes made in the Ripper Team, errors made in the investigation, and a review of the "handbag" investigation.
THE YORKSHIRE RIPPER CASE REVIEW OF THE POLICE INVESTIGATION OF THE CASE BY LAWRENCE BYFORD, Esq., CBE., QPM., HER MAJESTY'S INSPECTOR OF CONSTABULARY
A 154 page report commonly known as the Byford Report.
On June 1, 2006 the UK Home Office released Inspector of Constabulary, Sir Lawrence Byford's 1981 report of an official inquiry into the Ripper case. Part of the document entitled "Description of suspects, photofits and other assaults" remains censored by the Home Office.
Referring to the period between 1969 - when Sutcliffe first came to the attention of police - and 1975, the year of the murder of Wilma McCann, the report states: "There is a curious and unexplained lull in Sutcliffe's criminal activities and there is the possibility that he carried out other attacks on prostitutes and unaccompanied women during that period." In 1969 Sutcliffe, described in the Byford report as an "otherwise unremarkable young man", came to the notice of police on two occasions in connection with incidents involving prostitutes. The report said that it was clear he had on at least one occasion attacked a Bradford prostitute with a cosh. Also in 1969 he was arrested in the red light district of the city in possession of a hammer. However, rather than believing Sutcliffe might use the hammer as an offensive weapon, the arresting officers assumed he was a burglar and he was charged with "going equipped for stealing."
Sir Lawrence's report states: "We feel it is highly improbable that the crimes in respect of which Sutcliffe has been charged and convicted are the only ones attributable to him. This feeling is reinforced by examining the details of a number of assaults on women since 1969 which, in some ways, clearly fall into the established pattern of Sutcliffe's overall modus-operandi. I hasten to add that I feel sure that the senior police officers in the areas concerned are also mindful of this possibility but, in order to ensure full account is taken of all the information available, I have arranged for an effective liaison to take place." Police identified a number of attacks which matched Sutcliffe's modus operandi and tried to question the killer, but he was never charged with other crimes.
The Byford report's major findings were contained in a summary published by the then home secretary, William Whitelaw, but this is the first time precise details of the bungled police investigation have been disclosed. Sir Lawrence described delays in following up vital tip-offs from Trevor Birdsall, an associate of Sutcliffe's since 1966. On November 25 1980, Birdsall sent an anonymous letter to police, the text of which ran as follows: "I have good reason to now [sic] the man you are looking for in the Ripper case. This man as [sic] dealings with prostitutes and always had a thing about them... His name and address is Peter Sutcliffe, 6 Garden Lane, Heaton, Bradford. Workes [sic] for Clarkes Transport, Shipley." This letter was marked "Priority No 1". An index card was created on the basis of the letter and a policewoman found Sutcliffe already had three existing index cards in the records. But "for some inexplicable reason", said the Byford report, the papers remained in a filing tray in the incident room until the murderer's arrest on January 2 the following year.
Birdsall visited Bradford police station the day after sending the letter to repeat his misgivings about Sutcliffe; he added the information that he had been with Sutcliffe when Sutcliffe got out of a car to pursue a woman with whom he had had a bar room dispute in Halifax on August 16, 1975. This was the date and place of the Olive Smelt attack. A report compiled on this visit was lost, despite a "comprehensive search" which took place after Sutcliffe's arrest, according to the report. Sir Lawrence said: "The failure to take advantage of Birdsall's anonymous letter and his visit to the police station was yet again a stark illustration of the progressive decline in the overall efficiency of the major incident room. It resulted in Sutcliffe being at liberty for more than a month when he might conceivably have been in custody. Thankfully, there is no reason to think he committed any further murderous assaults within that period.
The report covers: Creation of a Major Incident Room. The Cross Area Sighting Inquiry. The Tyre (Tire) Marks and Vehicle Tracking Inquiry. The Letters and Tape Inquiry. The Police Interviews involving Sutcliffe. Media Relations. Lack of Computerisation of Records. Management of "series crimes".
BRITISH PRIME MINISTER CABINET OFFICE PAPERS
25 pages of British Prime Minister Cabinet Office papers dating from 1980 to 1984, concerning the Yorkshire Ripper case. A 10 Downing Street Memo notes Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's displeasure of the lack of progress in the case. Includes a summary of the findings in the Bradford Report.
HOME OFFICE REPORTS
In addition to the material above on the disc are two Home Office Reports, The Effective Use of the Media in Serious Crime Investigations, and Reviewing Murder Investigations: An Analysis of Progress Reviews From Six Police Forces.
The disc contains a text transcript of all recognizable text embedded into the graphic image of each page of each document, creating a searchable finding aid.
Text searches can be done across all files on the disc