Police apology to Peter Sutcliffe's victims for 'language, tone and terminology' used by officers

Emily Cleary
·4 min read
British serial killer Peter Sutcliffe, a.k.a. 'The Yorkshire Ripper,' in police custody, 1983. (Photo by Express Newspapers/Getty Images)
British serial killer Peter Sutcliffe, known as the Yorkshire Ripper, in police custody in 1983. (Express Newspapers/Getty Images)

West Yorkshire Police has issued an apology to relatives of Peter Sutcliffe’s victims for “the language, tone and terminology used by senior officers at the time”.

Sutcliffe, the serial killer known as the Yorkshire Ripper, died in hospital on Thursday.

The 74-year-old was serving a whole life sentence for the murder of at least 13 women in the late 1970s. He had tested positive for coronavirus and was suffering from underlying health conditions.

One of Britain’s most notorious serial killers, Sutcliffe had reportedly refused treatment at University Hospital of North Durham after being transferred there from maximum security HMP Frankland in County Durham, where he was being held.

Chief Constable of West Yorkshire Police John Robins said: “On behalf of West Yorkshire Police, I apologise for the additional distress and anxiety caused to all relatives by the language, tone and terminology used by senior officers at the time in relation to Peter Sutcliffe’s victims.

“Such language and attitudes may have reflected wider societal attitudes of the day, but it was as wrong then as it is now.

“A huge number of officers worked to identify and bring Peter Sutcliffe to justice and it is a shame that their hard work was overshadowed by the language of senior officers used at the time, the effect of which is still felt today by surviving relatives.

“Thankfully those attitudes are consigned to history and our approach today is wholly victim focused, putting them at the centre of everything we do.”

He added: “I offer this heartfelt apology today as the chief constable of West Yorkshire Police.”

The investigation into the ‘Yorkshire Ripper’ case was dogged by allegations of misogyny, with police convinced Sutcliffe was attacking only prostitutes. Victims who were not sex workers were initially disregarded.

Friday’s apology was issued in response to calls from the son of Sutcliffe’s first recognised victim.

Richard McCann had appealed to the force to make a formal apology for the way in which his mother and other victims were described by officers in the 1970s.

A photofit issued by the police of Peter Sutcliffe, aka 'The Yorkshire Ripper', 1979. In 1981, Sutcliffe was convicted of the murders of thirteen women and assaults on seven more. (Photo by Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
A photofit issued by West Yorkshire Police of Peter Sutcliffe, known as The Yorkshire Ripper, in 1979. In 1981, Sutcliffe was convicted of the murders of thirteen women and assaults on seven more. (Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

He said he wanted the force “once and for all” to “apologise to the families, who are still around, for the way in which they described some of the women as ‘innocent’, inferring that some were not innocent – including his mother.

He said: “I’d invite them to make that apology, it would set the records straight.”

McCann added: “I want her to be remembered as the mother of four children, the daughter of her parents. She was a family woman who, through no fault of her own, was going through adversity and made some bad decisions, some risky decisions.”

John Apter, chairman of the Police Federation, urged people to remember Sutcliffe’s victims, tweeting: “Lets show the faces of those he killed, not him. The 13 women he murdered and the 7 who survived his brutal attacks are in my thoughts.”

Richard McCann was five years old when his mother, Wilma McCann, was murdered in 1975.

He told the BBC news of Sutcliffe’s death had brought him “some degree of closure”, but that he had never wished him dead, nor was he celebrating the news.

He said: “Every time we hear a news story about him, and my mum’s photo is often shown, it’s just another reminder of what he did.”

One of Sutcliffe’s surviving victims said she was still suffering from the effects of his attack in Leeds in May 1976, 44 years on.

Marcella Claxton told Sky News: “I have to live with my injuries, 54 stitches in my head, back and front, plus I lost a baby, I was four months pregnant. I still get headaches, dizzy spells and black outs.”

Watch: Son of victim recalls 'beautiful' moment he learned of serial killer Peter Sutcliffe's death

Coronavirus: what happened today

Click here to sign up to the latest news, advice and information with our daily Catch-up newsletter