Can a man as evil as The Yorkshire Ripper really be cured?

Serial killer: Peter Sutcliffe's lawyers say he is no longer a threat to society

Serial killer: Peter Sutcliffe's lawyers say he is no longer a threat to society

Reports that Peter Sutcliffe, The Yorkshire Ripper, has been reclassified as a low-risk prisoner and could be released from Broadmoor are bound to worry most of us.

Such a re-classification would mean this hammer-wielding monster, who murdered 13 women and tried to kill another seven, would be moved to a medium-secure unit, with more privileges than the high-security institution he now inhabits.

Prison psychiatrists have apparently decided that he is no longer an escape risk and unlikely even to break any rules.

Sutcliffe's lawyers are arguing that, after being locked up for nearly 28 years, he should be declared sane and given a date for freedom.

In their eyes, a medium-secure unit should be the first step towards rehabilitation into society, with supervised shopping trips and guidance on how to live on the outside again.

First, let it be said loud and clear. It seems unfathomable that anyone who has committed such atrocities as Sutcliffe could ever be allowed to walk our streets again.

Whatever the psychiatrists say, why should the onus be on his rehabilitation into society - rather than on making sure he receives just punishment for his crimes?

Remember, after all, that the weapons with which he chose to murder and mutilate his victims were a hammer, a sharpened screwdriver and a knife. Furthermore, even if they say he is no longer dangerous, how can we take the experts' word for it that he would not once again attack some defenceless victim?



Should the Yorkshire Ripper ever be freed?

Should the Yorkshire Ripper ever be freed?

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And this brings us to the most interesting question of all. Are there crimes so terrible that those who commit them can never be allowed even the merest hint of rehabilitation?

By all measures, Peter Sutcliffe has been a model prisoner - or patient - at Broadmoor.

He is liked by the staff and has never caused aggravation. But then, all the accounts of Sutcliffe by those who knew him well make it clear that, from a social point of view, he was the kind of person who would not seem out of place in the bar of your local pub.

A clergyman friend of mine who worked at Broadmoor told me that the first time he saw Sutcliffe, the Ripper's heavily muscled physique aroused a certain nervous disquiet, but that closer acquaintance made it obvious that he was as unthreatening as a large St Bernard dog.

In fact he was a quiet, polite man and never known to lose his temper.

Today he is physically unrecognisable from the man who was locked up all those years ago.

At 19 stone, he is enormous; the neatly groomed beard and jet-black hair we know from photographs taken before he went inside are now grey and straggly; his complexion is pasty and he shuffles about Broadmoor.

So how did this apparently placid man turn into a serial killer whose name has become a synonym for horror?

For we have to know the answer to these questions before we can assess whether he is still a danger to society.

The answer sounds unbelievable. His father, John Sutcliffe, once admitted to a woman reporter that he believed it was he who was responsible for turning his son into a sadistic disemboweller of women.

John Sutcliffe was a coarse bully and womaniser whose own daughter admitted that she often daydreamed of murdering him. His large family was terrified of him.

Victims of The Yorkshire Ripper:

Victims of The Yorkshire Ripper: Top row, left to right Wilma McCann, Emily Jackson, Irene Richardson, Patricia Atkinson; (middle row, left to right) Jayne McDonald, Jean Jordan, Yvonne Pearson, Helen Rytka; (bottom row, left to right) Vera Millward, Josephine Whitaker, Barbara Leach, Jacqueline Hill

Into this family, Peter was born in June 1946. He was undersized and shy, a scrawny, miserable little boy who spent hours staring blankly into space and learned to walk quite literally by clinging to his mother's skirts.

And he continued to cling to them for years after. At school he was so withdrawn and passive that after his arrest most of his teachers could not even recall his face - although he had once played truant for two weeks because he was being bullied.

The Sutcliffe home in Bingley, West Yorkshire, was no background for an introspective child.

With a dominant, self-assertive bully for a father, Peter inevitably took his mother's side. But his younger brothers were more like their father.

The house was always jammed with people, and John Sutcliffe enjoyed 'feeling up' any young girl who strayed too close.

The atmosphere was heavy with sex, and even Peter's mother, a quiet doormat of a woman, had an affair with a local police sergeant.

Peter was 23 when he was shattered by discovering that his beloved mother - his vision of what a woman ought to be: loving, hard-working, self-sacrificing, always warm and sympathetic - had been having an extra-marital affair.

John Sutcliffe had learned about the affair when his wife mistook his voice on the phone for that of her lover.

Pretending to be the lover, John Sutcliffe arranged to meet her in a hotel room, then arrived three hours early, taking the whole family with him to witness her shame.

When Kathleen Sutcliffe opened the door, carrying a bag with her night clothes, she was confronted by her husband and family, including Peter and his new wife, a shy Czech girl called Sonia.

John Sutcliffe began to shout at his wife, calling her a prostitute. Then he made her open her night bag, take out the expensive negligee and hold it up.

John Sutcliffe, father of Peter Sutcliffe
Kathleen Sutcliffe (died 1978) mother of Peter Sutcliffe

Peter's late father John Sutcliffe, left, believed he was responsible for turning his son into a sadistic murderer while his mother Kathleen's extra martial affair also sowed the seeds of his hatred of women

John Sutcliffe later told the reporter: 'I remember Peter were just standing there - he were shook rigid. He had a look on his face like an animal, it were. I think it may have turned his mind.'

It did. The infidelity of Peter's mother convinced him that even the nicest women were whores at heart.

By this time, Peter himself was no longer the pathologically shy boy. Ashamed of being so weak, he had flung himself into body-building until by his late teens he had the physique of a wrestler.

As soon as he could afford it, he had bought his first car and used to drive at 80 mph through the narrow streets.

But where women were concerned, he could never match his father or his brothers.

Before his marriage, he liked to drive around the red light district of Bradford and stare at the women, but he never dared to accost one.

With his obsessive, semi-incestuous feelings about his mother, Peter Sutcliffe was undoubtedly a psychological mess.

It was his shy, unassertive girlfriend who started the train of events that turned him into a killer. He became frantic with jealousy because he thought she was sleeping with an Italian who owned a sports car.

After a violent quarrel, he walked out of work one afternoon and went to the red light district, determined to get rid of his shameful virginity. He asked a prostitute how much she charged, and when she said '£5' he took out a £10 note.

She went to a pub to get change, but did not bother to return. Furious and humiliated, he drove off.

For the introspective boy who had been fighting all his life to feel like a man, the humiliation bit deep and turned poisonous. Before long, it turned to mass murder.

One day he thought, wrongly, that he saw the prostitute; he followed her and hit her on the head with a brick inside a sock.

The woman survived and reported him, but he convinced the police it had been an ordinary quarrel and they let him go.

But that act of violence against a woman had taken possession of his imagination. He realised that it had instantly given a boost to his damaged ego.

He was treating women with the brutality they deserved and he now longed to repeat the experience - not just with a brick, but with a knife.

This is how a shy, polite young man turned into the most feared killer since Jack the Ripper.

The bullying father; the bullies at school; the adulterous mother; the prostitute who humiliated him. All these help explain his sickening crimes.

But they can never excuse them. Such deep and longlasting influences can surely never allow us to run the risk of letting Peter Sutcliffe ever become a free man again.

Personally, I believe there would be little harm in allowing him to be moved from Broadmoor to a medium security institution. After 28 years inside, he is unlikely to try to escape.

But it is utterly wrong and criminally dangerous for anyone to demand he should be freed on to our streets.

For Peter Sutcliffe not only deserves his punishment - there can be no guarantee, whatever psychiatrists say, that he would not strike again.