The Ripper Enquiry

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Timeline

The hunt for the Yorkshire Ripper was the largest ever undertaken in British Police history as for five years the detectives of West Yorkshire - with help in Manchester and Sunderland - sought in vain to identify the assailant who seemed so able to strike at will.

When Sutcliffe was finally apprehended it was by purest chance in South Yorkshire, and even then he may have escaped detection were it not for the street hunch of one of the arresting officers.

Once Sutcliffe had been arrested, it was soon found that he had been on the list of several sub-operations within the main investigation and had been interviewed on no fewer than nine occasions. In fact, two investigative strands should have borne fruit earlier: firstly when a five pound note was found on the body of Jean Jordan and traced practically to Sutcliffe's door, and latterly when police surveillance in red light districts across the North picked him out dozens of times in at least three cities.

With a better indexing system, these two facts should have picked Sutcliffe out as a serious suspect and sparked an further look into his criminal record - which included an arrest in 1969 when he was charged with going equipped for stealing... in a red light district with a hammer. In fact, on most of the occasions Sutcliffe was interviewed, the interviewing officers were unaware of previous interviews.

After 1979 the investigation was hopelessly derailed by the fake letters and tapes sent by "Wearside Jack" and the shortcomings of the investigation as a whole helped to spur widespread reform and the beginning of the creation of a national computerised database that would enable detectives in future cases to rapidly analyse crimes and identify potential suspects within days.

With hindsight, many of the mistakes made during the hunt for the Ripper seem infuriating and now - as at the time - many place the length of Sutcliffe's reign of terror at the feet of police failings. In fact, given the technology available at the time, it is little wonder that they were unable to lay him by the heels. Records were kept on paper, meaning that a single slip in indexing could cause a record to literally be lost in the system. The indexing team were, like their counterparts in the detective division, working 12 hour days and were soon at or beyond the limits of endurance in terms of concentration.

To give some idea of the scope of the investigation, by the time Sutcliffe was apprehended, police had undertaken no fewer than 200,000 people, searched 30,000 houses and investigated 180,000 vehicles. Such was the paperwork generated by this volume of activity that the floor of the Major Incident Room at Millgarth Police station in Leeds had to be strengthened to prevent it crashing into the floors below.


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