Peter William Sutcliffe (born 2 June 1946) is a British serial killer known as “The Yorkshire Ripper”. In 1981 Sutcliffe was convicted of murdering 13 women and attempting to murder seven others.
Sutcliffe was a regular user of prostitutes in Leeds and Bradford. His obsession with killing streetwalkers seems to have originated with an argument over payment, but he claimed he was being guided by the voice of God.
He carried out the murders over a five-year period, during which the public were especially shocked by the murders of some pedestrians who were not prostitutes. When arrested in January 1981 for driving with false number-plates, police questioned him about the killings and he confessed that he was the perpetrator.
At his trial, he pleaded not guilty to murder on grounds of diminished responsibility as he had been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, but his defence was rejected by the jury. He is serving 20 sentences of life imprisonment in Broadmoor High Security Hospital. After his conviction, Sutcliffe began using his mother’s maiden name and became known as Peter William Coonan.
West Yorkshire Police were criticised for their slowness in apprehending Sutcliffe, despite interviewing him nine times during the murder hunt. Owing to the sensational nature of the case, they were having to handle an exceptional volume of information, some of it vexatious, including a major distraction caused by a hoax phone-call purporting to be from the ‘Ripper’. Nevertheless, serious criticism was confirmed in the 2006 Byford Report of the official enquiry.
The High Court dismissed an appeal by Sutcliffe in 2010, confirming that he would serve a whole life tariff and would never be released from prison.