Independent: Families of Yorkshire Ripper victims receive police apology for language used during investigation
‘It was only when some so-called respectable women got killed that they began to pay attention,’ says campaigner
John Robins, the force’s chief constable, issued the “heartfelt” apology on Friday, shortly after Sutcliffe’s death was announced.
In 1981, Sutcliffe, otherwise known as the Yorkshire Ripper, was convicted of murdering 13 women in northern England between 1975 and 1980.
Media coverage and public outrage was coloured by the notion Sutcliffe’s murder victims who were sex workers were more to blame than those who were not – with campaigners arguing the police’s disregard for sex workers’ lives effectively enabled Sutcliffe to continue with his murder spree.
During Sutcliffe’s trial, Sir Michael Havers, the prosecutor who was attorney general at the time, said: “Some were prostitutes but perhaps the saddest part of the case is that some were not. The last six attacks were on totally respectable women.”
Richard McCann, whose mother Wilma was murdered by the Yorkshire Ripper in 1975, had called for an apology, saying that officers had described 16-year-old Jayne MacDonald as Sutcliffe’s first “innocent” victim, following her death in 1977.
Speaking on behalf of West Yorkshire Police, Mr Robins said: “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.”
Mr Robins added that such attitudes have been “consigned to history” and that the police’s approach now is “wholly victim focused”.
Sutcliffe – who dodged being picked up by the authorities for years – died in hospital at the age of 74.
One of the ripper’s victims who survived his attacks said she was still enduring the consequences of his brutality almost half a century since his attack in Leeds.
“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,” Marcella Claxton told Sky News. “I still get headaches, dizzy spells and blackouts.”
Nina Lopez, a spokesperson for the English Collective of Prostitutes, a leading campaign group which supports the decriminalisation of prostitution, told The Independent the investigation into the Yorkshire ripper case was “blatantly bias, sexist, racist and anti-working class”.
Ms Lopez was involved with the English Collective of Prostitutes at the time of the Yorkshire ripper trial and helped organise a picket outside the court – as well as personally speaking to some of Sutcliffe’s victims.
She said: “We heard the news of the Yorkshire ripper dying today. My first thought was – where are the families of the survivors and how are they feeling? I thought they must probably be feeling relief they don’t have to face any attempt to get Sutcliffe out of prison. There was some talk of that not long ago.”
Ms Lopez argued Sir Havers comments about sex workers during Sutcliffe’s trial were “an indictment of the whole way in which the police and the establishment were dealing with the Yorkshire ripper case”.
She added: “The comments really explained why it had taken them all those years, and so many women being attacked and killed before they actually caught him.
“It showed their contempt for sex workers and utter contempt for working class women generally. And for single mothers and for women doing their best to support their children. It was only when some so-called respectable women got killed that they began to pay attention.”
Richard McCann, who was just five-years-old when his mother Wilma was murdered in 1975, said he wanted her to “be remembered as the mother of four children, the daughter of her parents”.
He added: ”She was a family woman who, through no fault of her own, was going through adversity and made some bad decisions, some risky decisions. She paid for those decisions with her life.”
Mr McCann said he had contacted the killer’s brother Carl to give “his condolences” after learning he had died.
He told the BBC: “I was convinced as a child, having had no therapy of any description, that he was out there and that he was going to kill me.
”It really affected me. I was ashamed of being associated with Sutcliffe and all his crimes and, possibly, to do with the way that lots of people in society looked down, and the police and some of the media – describing some of the women as innocent and some not so innocent.
“I’m sorry to harp on about this but I’ve had to live with that shame for all these years.There’s only one person that should have felt any shame – although I doubt that he did – and that was Peter Sutcliffe.“