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Yorkshire Ripper, Britain’s most notorious killer of 20th century, dies at 74

Anna Gowthorpe

By PA Reporter

The Yorkshire Ripper, Britain’s most notorious killer of the 20th century, has died in hospital aged 74.

Peter Sutcliffe was serving a whole-life tariff for murdering 13 women across Yorkshire and the North West between 1975 and 1980 and had brutally attacked at least seven more, who survived.

Once the most feared man in the country, he died at the University Hospital of North Durham after being transferred there from maximum security HMP Frankland, where he was an inmate.

He had tested positive for Covid-19 and was suffering from underlying health conditions including diabetes, heart trouble and obesity.

According to reports he had turned down medical treatment for the virus.

Richard McCann was five when his mother Wilma was murdered by Sutcliffe in 1975.

He was left terrified after his mother’s killing was followed by that of Jayne MacDonald, who lived in his street.

Mr McCann told BBC Breakfast: “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.”

He added: “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.”

Former detective Bob Bridgestock said he was one of the first on the scene when Josephine Whitaker was murdered in 1979.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Peter Sutcliffe wasn’t a very intelligent killer, he was just brutal.

“It fits, in my mind, into the likes of (Myra) Hindley and (Ian) Brady and the likes of Robert Black – serial killers who will be detested way after they’ve gone.

“I’ve walked with my dog this morning and people have said ‘Good news, good riddance’, and that’s what a lot of people will be thinking about (it).”

He said senior detectives “wore blinkers” while leading the cumbersome inquiry, which got side-tracked by a cruel hoaxer.

He added: “It’s the victims that served the life sentence and then the victims’ families that really serve the true life sentences.

“For them today, they will have some kind of closure.”

One of his surviving victims said she was still suffering from the effects of his attack in Leeds, 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 blackouts.”

John Apter, chairman of the Police Federation, urged people to remember Sutcliffe’s victims.

He tweeted: “The 13 women he murdered and the 7 who survived his brutal attacks are in my thoughts.”

Born in Bingley, West Yorkshire, in 1946, Sutcliffe left school aged 15 and worked in menial jobs before becoming a grave digger.

He began his killing spree in 1975 and avoided detection for years due to a series of missed opportunities by police to snare him.

He eventually confessed in 1981 after he was caught in Sheffield.

Despite his 24-hour-long confession to the killings, Sutcliffe denied the murders when he appeared in court.

In May 1981, he was jailed for 20 life terms at the Old Bailey, with the judge recommending a minimum sentence of 30 years.

He was transferred from Parkhurst prison on the Isle of Wight to Broadmoor secure hospital in Berkshire in 1984, after he was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia.

In 2010, he was told he would never be released, and was later deemed fit enough to be treated as an inmate and was returned to maximum security prison.

More than two decades later, a secret report disclosed that Sutcliffe probably committed more crimes than the 13 murders and seven attempted murders for which he was convicted.

A Prison Service spokesman said: “HMP Frankland prisoner Peter Coonan (born Sutcliffe) died in hospital on November 13. The Prisons and Probation Ombudsman has been informed.”