A new documentary airs on BBC Four from March 26 over three nights about the hunt and eventual capture of Peter Sutcliffe, The Yorkshire Ripper. Here's everything you need to know.
When is it on television? BBC Four, 9pm on Tuesday, March 26, Wednesday March 27 and Thursday March 28.
What is it about? The Yorkshire Ripper Files: A Very British Crime Story poses a timely question: did 1970s attitudes to women influence the investigation with tragic consequences, derailing the police investigation and leaving the murderer free to kill again and again?
What is each hour-long episode about?
Episode one, Chapletown, explores the early years of the investigation from 1975, when the first Ripper murder occurred.
Where's that? The location of the first two murders in Chapeltown, then well-known as Leeds’s main red light district, led the police to decide that prostitution was the connection between the attacks. After the second murder in January 1976, the police announced they were hunting a ‘prostitute killer’ and the investigation became driven by this theory.
Who is interviewed? Speaking to children of some of the very first murder victims, police officers who worked on the investigation and journalists who covered the murders, the difference between the way the women were characterised by the investigation and the way they are remembered by those who knew and loved them is explored.
After meeting a survivor of one of Sutcliffe’s earlier attacks, along with the daughter of another, this episode reveals how their vital eye-witness evidence was ignored because neither of the women were prostitutes and so didn’t fit the victim profile in the police narrative.
What Happened next? And while the police ploughed on, driven their theory, the killer remained at large. Between February 1977 and May 1978 Peter Sutcliffe murdered seven more women.
Episode two: Manhunt.
As the Ripper’s murders cause terror in the north of England and the unknown killer becomes a kind of cult figure, with Yorkshire Ripper chants at football matches and Thin Lizzy’s Killer On The Loose topping the charts, Manhunt explores how the police investigation became a wild goose chase.
Letters and a tape claiming to come from the murderer himself lead the police to believe the killer is from the North East. Women who survived attacks by the Ripper claim police ignored their witness statements and promising lines of inquiry were derailed - all because they did not fit with senior officers’ theory about the killer’s motivation.
Ending with the arrest of Peter Sutcliffe, this episode reveals how his name was already in multiple police files: he had been interviewed nine times during the course of the investigation. Had the police arrested him the first time he was questioned in November 1977, seven women’s lives might have been saved.
Episode three: Justice.
Justice charts the arrest, trial and conviction of Peter Sutcliffe, and the legacy for the relatives of his victims and the survivors of his attacks.
Speaking to one of Sutcliffe’s defence team, a leading barrister from the prosecution, and journalists who covered the trial, this episode traces the story from moment of arrest. Witnesses were offered money for exclusives - potentially jeopardising the trial - long queues formed for the public gallery and front row seats in court were given to VIPs. Shockingly, the women Sutcliffe attacked were once more classed as either prostitutes or ’innocent victims’.
After the trial a catalogue of errors are revealed, revealing how the police’s original theory about a ‘prostitute killer’ took them in the wrong direction right from the start. Going back to survivors and relatives of Sutcliffe’s victims, the film explores the legacy left behind by his crimes - and what it has been like to live as the child of a Ripper murder victim.
The Yorkshire Ripper Files: A Very British Crime Story starts on Tuesday March 26 at 9pm on BBC Four