Lessons from the Yorkshire Ripper case

Issue section: 

I very much welcomed Jan Nielsen’s review of The Yorkshire Ripper Files: A Very British Crime Story (May SR).

It is a powerful film and pulls no punches as to how prejudice and ineptitude of the police, politicians and the media of the day were fundamental to Peter Sutcliffe’s success in evading arrest for so long.

The film rightly debunks the commonly held view that the serial killer was targeting sex workers out of some psychotic belief that God was directing him to do so. Instead what we see is that he aimed to abuse and kill women and that his targeting of prostitutes in the impoverished north was clinically cynical; they were the most vulnerable.

The documentary shows the towns Sutcliffe preyed on, once thriving manufacturing towns, now left decimated by the actions of a ruthless tory government, whose only advice to those left looking for work was to “get on your bikes” and leave.

Such areas would quickly become in the eyes of uncaring police, politicians and media, “problem communities” and “no go zones” frequented by crime, sleaze and untrustworthy peoples. Such attitudes all played a part in the investigation, such as when the police ignored important testimonies and witness descriptions by survivors. The consequence of this was that Sutcliffe was able to evade arrest for longer and kill more women.

Instead of protecting sex workers, the police and politicians’ response was to arrest them and thus drive the trade even further underground and make it more precarious.

Sutcliffe, like many other serial killers, went after those that were most vulnerable — abandoned people, society’s “rejects” who can’t go to the police or, if they do, won’t be taken seriously.

There are essential comparisons to be made here with abuse scandals such as Rochdale and Rotherham and questions to be asked about a society that fails to protect its vulnerable. It is a shame that our media decides instead to use such abuses to whip up racism and Islamophobia.

This makes The Yorkshire Ripper Files even more essential viewing.

Adrian Jarvis