High Court ruling in 2010 ended uncertainty over Yorkshire Ripper’s future behind bars

The decision that Yorkshire Ripper Peter Sutcliffe had to spend the rest of his life behind bars brought to an end the uncertainty over the future of one of the nation’s most notorious killers.

Friday, 13th November 2020, 9:04 am
Updated Friday, 13th November 2020, 9:08 am

Sutcliffe was given 20 life terms for the murder of 13 women and attempted murder of seven others at the Old Bailey in 1981.

Later known as Peter Coonan, the former lorry driver, from Bradford, West Yorkshire, was recommended to serve a minimum of 30 years behind bars.

But in 2005 it was reported Sutcliffe had written to the Home Office pleading to be set free.

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Sutcliffe’s name was not on a Home Office list, published a year later, of 35 murderers serving “whole life” sentences and he was given no formal minimum term – which is the least a prisoner must serve before becoming eligible to apply for release on parole.

In 2008, it emerged he was making a legal bid for freedom by claiming his human rights had been breached, with his lawyers set to argue the Home Office disregarded his human rights by failing to fix a tariff for his sentence.

At the time of his original sentencing, tariffs were decided by the Home Secretary, after receiving advice from the trial judge and the Lord Chief Justice.

The suggestion Sutcliffe could be released caused outrage.

The husband of Olive Smelt, one of his surviving victims, said he wanted him to remain behind bars.

Speaking in 2009, Harry Smelt said: “He left 26 orphans, so how can anybody ever be punished for that adequately? The death sentence would have been too good for him. One just hopes that he rots in jail.”

Dr Kevin Murray, the psychiatrist who had been in charge of Sutcliffe’s care since 2001, said in a 2006 report that he now posed a “low risk of reoffending”.

It was on July 5 1975, just 11 months after his marriage, that he took a hammer and made his first attack on a woman.

Sutcliffe is said to have believed he was on a “mission from God” to kill prostitutes – although not all of his victims were sex workers – and was dubbed the Yorkshire Ripper because he mutilated their bodies using a hammer, a sharpened screwdriver and a knife.

Mr Justice Mitting, at the High Court in London in 2010, ruled “early release provisions” were “not to apply”.

He added that the “appropriate term is a whole life term”.

Richard McCann, whose mother was one of his first victims, said the ruling gave him a “sense of relief”.

He described the decision as a “small victory for my mum” and the other victims.