Professor Craig Jackson shares his insights on a new TV Show about the Yorkshire Ripper, Peter Sutcliffe.
Filmed in November 2020 shortly after Peter Sutcliffe died in prison from coronavirus, the 90 minute documentary looks at how the investigation of the Yorkshire Ripper / Sutcliffe may have been concluded much sooner and with less loss of life if the police had paid more attention at the time to the victims of Sutcliffe that they believed were attacked by different offenders.
Peter Sutcliffe was eventually convicted of the vicious murders of 13 women and the attempted murder of 7 more, between 1975-1980. As the "Yorkshire Ripper" at the time, the unidentified serial killer appeared to be attacking women who he thought were sex workers. Many other people survived additional attacks by a man who fitted the physical description of the Yorkshire Ripper during this time and they reported their experiences to the police, but many of those were not recognised as attacks by the same man.
The details these victims were able to provide the police included useful information about his appearance, his method of approaching victims prior to attacking them, and previous earlier crimes he committed that could have identified the ripper as Sutcliffe much earlier on.
Crucially, the police believed the ripper had a Wearside accent (the result of an elaborate hoax they fell for) and they dismissed reports of ripper activity when the attacker had a different accent. In the documentary, Professor Jackson discusses how such mistakes made at the time, coupled with an over-reliance on the results of linguistic criminal profiling, falling for the hoax, and a lack of diverse thinking among the investigation team, meant that the investigation was doomed.
"The investigating team were convinced the Yorkshire Ripper was from the North Wearside area, with a strong accent to match. This meant that all eyes and ears were looking in the wrong direction, as the offender actually had a Yorkshire accent, meaning that even when stopped and questioned by officers on more than one occasion, he was able to go about his business as he did not fit the ripper "profile". Reports of attacks from surviving victims stating that their attacker had a Yorkshire accent were not given due attention."
The programme also looks at what impacts being "ignored" and being marginalised as a victim of attempted murder by one of the worst serial murderers in UK history had on the psychology and well being of many of the unofficial Yorkshire ripper victims.
The police had a fixed idea of who the killer was likely to be and they were convinced the Yorkshire Ripper was only attacking sex workers. Many other victims who survived attacks were students, office workers, and other young women, but the police did not use the information they could offer as they did not believe they were victims of the same attacker.
The Yorkshire Ripper’s New Victims airs on Channel 5, Thursday 4th March 2021 at 9pm. Want to learn more about how psychologists are trying to change the way police officers think about offenders and victims? Professor Jackson teaches on our Psychology courses, which delve into a variety of psychological issues that can impact on criminal behaviour.