‘They were ALL innocent’: Viewers left outraged by Netflix Yorkshire Ripper series as journalist says sex workers killings were ‘chip paper murders’ compared to ‘perfectly innocent’ girl, 16, who worked in a supermarket

  • New Netflix documentary looks at the victim of Yorkshire Ripper in the 1970s
  • Peter Sutcliffe, deceased, killed 13 women and attacked more from 1975-1980
  • He was eventually arrested ans trialed in 1981, where sentenced to 30 years 
  • During the investigation, police thought the was only targeting prostitutes
  • The viewers were shocked police implied sex-workers weren’t innocent victims

A new Netflix series revisiting the crimes of the Yorkshire Ripper, Peter Sutcliffe, has outraged viewers who claim it still perpetuates the attitude that some of his victims’ lives meant less because they were sex workers. 

The crimes of the serial killer who murdered 13 women and attempted to kill many others in the 1970s, have been well documented, but a new generation has been left shocked to hear sex workers among Sutcliffe’s victims referred to as ‘pests’, ‘good time girls’ or having ‘gone down in status,’ by the officers investigating the crimes. 

And in episode one of the series, Yorkshire Post journalist Alan Whitehouse describes how police were ‘caught short’ by the murder of Sutcliffe’s fourth victim, Jayne McDonald, 16, who he followed home from her job at a supermarket, which prompted national interest in the case.  

Referring to the murder of three prostitutes as ‘fish and chip murders’, he said: ‘Until then they had been dealing with a certain type of woman, following a certain lifestyle. A perfectly innocent girl, from a very ordinary family is dead.’  

The comments left viewers outraged, with one taking to Twitter to comment: ‘Watching #TheRipper and am disgusted as usual by widespread hatred of sex workers and people really being mad about the ripper killing an innocent 16-year old as if sex workers aren’t innocent. The reason killers target sex workers is you thinking sex work is indecent.’ 

‘Watching #theripper netflix & listening to the way the press & police are talking about these women is making my blood boil! They were ALL INNOCENT WOMEN. Doesn’t matter what they did for a living. They were INNOCENT WOMEN,’ another wrote. 

After Sutcliffe died in November,  West Yorkshire police chief John Robins apologised ‘for the additional distress and anxiety caused to all relatives by the language, tone and terminology used by senior officers at the time in relation to Peter Sutcliffe’s victims’.

Pictured, 12 of the 13 women who were killed by Peter Sutliffe. Wima McCann, 28, top left, was his first, while Jacqueline Hill, 20, bottom right, was his last. Not picture: Margaret Walls, who was killed in August, but was found after he was arrested 

Viewers were shocked that some officers in the documentary implied that the victimes who were sex-workers were not as ‘innocent’ as those who weren’t 

Explaining how the murder of Jayne was a turning point in the case, journalist Christa Achroyd, explained: ‘For the first time, the national press were interested.

‘Jayne was beautiful, she was 16, and more importantly, the police had made a distinction between her killing and the killing of the other women.

‘They described her as the first “innocent”.’ she said, ‘Suddenly, everything that happened before had happened to prostitutes, and here was an “innocent” victim.

Alan Whitehouse, of the Yorkshire Post, who also appeared in the documentary, also explained how the distinction was made at the time. 

Alan Whitehouse, from the Yorkshire Post, said there was no interest in the first murders because the women were prostitutes 

Serial Killer Peter Sutcliffe, pictured on his wedding day, which took place the same year he started to attack women, and a year before he killed Wilma McCann

‘This is the moment the West Yorkshire police were pulled a little bit short, because up until then they had been dealing with a certain type of woman, following a certain lifestyle. 

‘A perfectly innocent girl, from a very ordinary family is dead,’ he told the camera. 

Andy Laptew, who was one of the first constables for the West Yorkshire police to work on the case, explained the death of Jayne was a turning point in the level of attention and support the police investigation was given. 

A picture of Peter Sutcliff (under the cloth, right) escorted by police on January 5 1981, being led out of Dewsbury Magistrates Court in Dewsbury

Alan Laptew, a PC for West Yorkshire police who worked on the McCann cased and the subsequent Ripper murders, called the mother-of-four a ‘pest’

‘There’s a massive groundswell of attention. People were falling over themselves to give information,’ he said. ‘It turned a local hunt for a prostitute killer into a massive national story,’ he added. 

The documentary explained that Sutcliffe’s first known victim, Wilma McCann, 28, was thought to be a prostitute because she was found dead not too far from the red-light area of Chapeltown, where she lived. 

Andy Laptew, who was one of the first police officers on the crime scene, said: ‘She was a prostitute. And, as the investigation went on, we discovered that she was a bit of a pest apparently.’

McCann, 28, was a mother-of-four who had become a sex-worker because she was struggling with money. 

In some archive footage, an unnamed man could be seen telling the camera:  ‘Wilma McCann was a girl who liked the nightlife. She associated with people at night clubs, and she was somewhat of a prostitute. 

Alan Whitehouse, from the Yorkshire Post, explained that because Wilma was a sex-worker, there was very little interest in her murder, which he called a ‘fish and chips murder. 

Who was Peter Sutcliffe, the grave digger who murdered 13 women between 1975 and 1980? 

Peter William Sutcliffe was born on June 2 1946 in Bingley, West Yorkshire.

A relative loner at school, he left education aged 15 and took on a series of menial jobs. His work as a grave digger was said to have nurtured an awkward and macabre sense of humour.

On August 10 1974, Sutcliffe married Sonia. Less than a year later, the lorry driver picked up a hammer and began attacking women, two in Keighley and one in Halifax.

All three survived and police did not notice the similarities between the attacks.

The first fatality was Wilma McCann. The 28-year-old sex worker and mother-of-four was battered to death in the early hours of October 30 1975.

She was struck with a hammer and stabbed in the neck, chest and stomach after Sutcliffe picked her up in Leeds.

He was later to tell police: ‘After that first time, I developed and played up a hatred for prostitutes in order to justify within myself a reason why I had attacked and killed Wilma McCann.’

But life continued as normal for the Sutcliffes.

His next victim – 42-year-old Emily Jackson from Leeds – was murdered in similarly bloody circumstances in January the following year.

He would apparently wait more than a year before striking again. It was his fifth murder, that of 16-year-old Jayne MacDonald in April 1977, that saw the national press wake up to the fact a serial killer was on the loose.

Dubbed the Yorkshire Ripper, the assailant’s identity went unknown for years – in fact police were totally misled by a hoax which took detectives to Sunderland, allowing Sutcliffe to keep on killing.

In 1979, a tape was sent to police by a man calling himself Jack the Ripper. He had already sent a series of hand-written letters from Sunderland and police believed they were on to the killer, discounting all those without a Wearside accent on their substantial database of suspects – Sutcliffe included.

By the summer of that year, Sutcliffe had been interviewed five times. He also bore a significant resemblance to a widely-circulated image of the prime suspect while a banknote discovered near one victim’s body was traced to Sutcliffe’s employer at the time.

However, the fact his accent and handwriting did not match those of the hoaxer meant Sutcliffe remained a free man.

He was finally caught in January 1981 when police ran a check on his car to discover the number plates were stolen.

His passenger was 24-year-old street worker Olivia Reivers – detectives later discovered a hammer and a knife nearby. Their search was over.

Despite a 24-hour-long confession to the killings, Sutcliffe entered not-guilty pleas when indicted at court.

In May 1981, he was jailed for 20 life terms at the Old Bailey, the judge recommending a minimum sentence of 30 years.

He was transferred from Parkhurst prison on the Isle of Wight to Broadmoor secure hospital in Berkshire in 1984 after he was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia.

More than two decades later, a secret report revealed that Sutcliffe probably committed more crimes than the 13 murders and seven attempted murders for which he was convicted.

He left Broadmoor and moved back into mainstream prison in 2016, serving at Frankland Prison, Durham.

He was taken to hospital in October 2020 after suffering a suspected heart attack and returned to the University Hospital of North Durham a fortnight later having contracted coronavirus.

Sutcliffe, who died on 13th November after he reportedly refused treatment for Covid-19 and was also suffering from underlying health conditions, insisted on being addressed by his mother’s maiden name of Coonan, but will be forever known as the Ripper.

‘You read in the newspaper a prostitute’s been killed, been murdered, and you shrug and you move on to the next story,’ he said. 

Wilma’s murder was followed a couple of months later by Emily Jackson’s, whose body was found behind a bakery in Chapeltown. 

Jackson, a mother-of-three, was also believed to be a sex worker because her body was found not too far from the Gaity, a local strip-club which was frequented by prostitutes and their patrons. 

A year later, in April 1977, the body of 28-year-old Irene Richardson was found in Soldiers Field, at Roundhay Park in Leeds by a dog walker. 

The documentary showed a clip of Jim Hobson, who had just been promoted to Detective Chief Superintendent of Leeds police, and was investigating her murder. 

He said:  Well, I’ll bear in mind two previous murders that happened in Leeds, that are still not, still unsolved.

‘There are great similarities between the two, but I’m keeping an open mind,’ he added. 

He added ‘This woman was living fairly respectably up to about ten days before she met her death. She then seems to have gone down in status and been wandering about the streets.’ 

‘The police telling the prostitutes they were mad for going out to earn while #theripper was at large as if they had a choice. Do you think these women were out there for a laugh. Hideous,’ one said. 

‘Hard to contain the anger when listening to the police, journalists and other old white dudes talk about women, sex workers, and POC,’ another said. 

‘Makes me furious when they say “she was just a prostitute, a good time girl”. A scared young woman (only 28) with four small children who was divorced (because her husband had been abusive) living in poverty trying to survive is what she was. And she was murdered,’ one wrote about Wilma McCann. 

‘Prostitutes are human beings,’ one simply said.  

‘PSA: The women killed by Peter Sutcliffe were mothers, daughters, wives, aunts and nieces and not just prostitutes,’ said another. 

Sutcliffe, a lorry driver from Bradford, started attacking women with a hammer in 1974 before killing Wilma McCann in 1975. 

He then went on to kill and mutilate 12 other women: Emily Jackson (Leeds 1976), Irene Richardson (Leeds 1977), Patricia “Tina” Atkinson (Bradford 1977), Jayne MacDonald (Leeds 1977), Jean Jordan (Manchester 1977), Yvonne Pearson (Bradford 1978), Helen Rytka (Huddersfield 1978), Vera Millward (Manchester 1978), Josephine Whitaker (Halifax 1979), Barbara Leach (Bradford 1979), Marguerite Walls (Leeds 1980) and Jacqueline Hill (Leeds 1980). 

He attempted to kill several other women, including Maureen Long, who was the first woman known to have survived an attack by the serial killer, but suffered from amnesia. 

Sutcliffe died alone in November aged 74, after contracting Covid-19 and was secretly cremated two weeks later. 

The killer’s funeral is thought to have been arranged by his ex-wife Sonia Woodward, 70, who may also have paid for the ceremony. 

Police officers searching for Wilma McCann in Chapeltown. McCann, a mother-of-four, was the serial killer’s first murder victim

The Netlifx documentary on the killer has not been without controversy, with families of his victims and survivors blasting its sensationalist title, which was changed from ‘Once Upon a Time in Yorkshire’ to ‘The Ripper.’

It was reported last week that the company blasted Netflix in a letter written to the company. 

They described the term ‘Ripper’ as ‘irresponsible, insensitive and insulting to our families’. 

Netflix changed the name after the families agreed to take part in the documentary on Sutcliffe, on the understanding it would be called Once Upon A Time in Yorkshire. 

Two of Sutcliffe’s victims Marcella Claxton and Mo Lea and relatives of seven of Sutcliffe’s victims and survivors signed the letter.

They included Irene Richardson, Emily Jackson, Patricia Atkinson, Olive Smelt, Wilma McCann, Jayne MacDonald and Vera Millward.

In the letter, they said: ‘The moniker “the Yorkshire Ripper” has traumatised us and our families for the past four decades.

‘It glorifies the brutal violence of Peter Sutcliffe, and grants him a celebrity status that he does not deserve.

‘Please remember that the word “ripper” relates to ripping flesh and the repeated use of this phrase is irresponsible, insensitive and insulting to our families and our mothers’ and grandmothers’ legacies,’ reported the Sunday Times.

They said they ‘felt betrayed’ by the company and said none would have participated if they had known Netflix would change the documentary’s name to the word that ‘that has haunted us for generations’.

Netflix said the series is ‘not about Sutcliffe’ but rather is a ‘a sensitive re-examination of the crimes within the context of England in the late 1970s’.

A spokesman said: ‘This was a time of radical change: a time of poverty and misogyny in which Sutcliffe’s victims were dehumanised by the media and the police, and which resulted in the perpetrator evading capture for five years.

‘This series has at its heart the stories of the women who died.’

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