Death of Peter Sutcliffe brings 'some kind of closure' for victims' families

Son of murdered Wilma McCann says he is sorry to hear of news but some relatives may be glad

Marguerite Walls, killed on 20 August 1980.
Marguerite Walls, killed on 20 August 1980. Photograph: PA
Marguerite Walls, killed on 20 August 1980. Photograph: PA
North of England correspondent

Last modified on Fri 13 Nov 2020 23.36 EST

Families of some of Peter Sutcliffe’s victims have said his death has brought them some closure.

Sutcliffe, the serial killer known as the Yorkshire Ripper, died in hospital, a Prison Service spokesman said on Friday. The 74-year-old was serving 20 life terms at Frankland prison in County Durham for murdering 13 women and attempting to kill seven more in the late 1970s.

The son of Sutcliffe’s first victim said his death would bring “some kind of closure”. Richard McCann was five when his mother, Wilma, 28, was murdered by Sutcliffe in Leeds in October 1975.

“The attention he’s had over the years, the continuous news stories that we’ve suffered over the years, there is some form of conclusion to that,” McCann said. “I am sure a lot of the families, surviving children of the victims, may well be glad he has gone and they have a right to feel like that.”

McCann told the BBC he had decided about 10 years ago to forgive Sutcliffe for his mother’s murder. “I am sorry to hear he has passed away. It’s not something I could have said in the past when I was consumed with anger,” he said.

Previously, the husband of a woman who survived one of Sutcliffe’s attacks has said she rarely thought about the man who left her in need of brain surgery.

Olive Smelt was attacked by Sutcliffe as she walked home in Halifax on a summer evening in 1975. She was hit twice on the head with a hammer and needed brain surgery, and later made a full recovery. She went on marry and have three children.

In 2010, when the high court ruled that Sutcliffe would spend the rest of his life in prison, her husband, Harry, then aged 85, said it was the correct decision for Sutcliffe’s own good.

“I think it’s as well for him that he does have to remain in,” Smelt said. “There’s a kind of ranking in among prisoners – the more notorious they can be, the better it is for them.

“Think of what would happen if one of the prisoners outside got to him and could say: ‘I’m the one who got Peter Sutcliffe.’ He could live off that for the rest of his life.”

Smelt said then that neither he nor his wife worried about what would have happened had Sutcliffe been released, and their priorities had changed. He said: “Olive is very severely disabled now – the last thing she worries about is Peter Sutcliffe.”

12 of Yorkshire Ripper victims
12 of Yorkshire Ripper victims Photograph: PA

Sutcliffe’s victims

  • Wilma McCann, 28, from Chapeltown, Leeds, killed in October 1975.

  • Emily Jackson, 42, a mother of three from Morley, Leeds, killed on 20 January 1976.

  • Irene Richardson, 28, a mother of two from Chapeltown, Leeds, killed on 6 February 1977.

  • Patricia Atkinson, 32, a mother of three from Manningham, Bradford, killed on 24 April 1977.

  • Jayne MacDonald, 16, a shop assistant from Leeds, killed on 26 June 1977.

  • Jean Jordan, 21, from Manchester, who died between 30 September and 11 October 1977.

  • Yvonne Pearson, 22, from Bradford, killed between 20 January and 26 March 1978.

  • Helen Rytka, 18, from Huddersfield, killed on 31 January 1978.

  • Vera Millward, 40, a mother of seven from Manchester, killed on 16 May 1978.

  • Josephine Whitaker, 19, a building society worker from Halifax, killed on 4 April 1979.

  • Barbara Leach, 20, a student, killed while out walking in Bradford on 1 September 1979.

  • Marguerite Walls, 47, a civil servant from Leeds, killed on 20 August 1980.

  • Jacqueline Hill, 20, a student, found dead in Headingley on 16 November 1980.