Home Office defends Ripper's day out of Broadmoor

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The Independent Online

The Home Office today defended the decision to allow Yorkshire Ripper Peter Sutcliffe out of Broadmoor to visit the spot where his father's ashes were scattered.

The Home Office today defended the decision to allow Yorkshire Ripper Peter Sutcliffe out of Broadmoor to visit the spot where his father's ashes were scattered.

It issued a statement after it was reported that Sutcliffe, who killed 13 women, was allowed a day visit to the coastal town of Arnside, Cumbria, to grieve over his loss.

Leeds MP Fabian Hamilton criticised the decision, fearing it would cause more grief, anger and upset to the families of his victims.

But the Home Office insisted the decision was "the right and proper thing to do".

It was initially made by former Home Secretary David Blunkett and was reaffirmed by Charles Clarke.

The Home Office said: "The decision on this individual was made by the previous Home Secretary David Blunkett who felt it was the right and proper thing to do.

"This decision was subsequently reaffirmed by Charles Clarke.

"A full and comprehensive risk assessment was made by the authorities and the individual was closely supervised at all times. At no point was there any danger to members of the public."

Sutcliffe, 58, who is serving life, had previously been refused compassionate leave to attend the funeral of his father in Bradford.

John Sutcliffe, 81, died from cancer at a hospice near his West Yorkshire home.

Sutcliffe had hoped to leave Broadmoor top-security hospital to attend the funeral last June. It would have been his first return to one of the towns he terrorised in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

The Home Secretary needs to give consent for any such visits by prisoners on compassionate grounds.

Permission is only given after a thorough assessment of any risks in relation to safety of others and the strength of any compassionate grounds, Home Office guidance states.

The "understandable potential distress" of victims or victims' families are also taken into account.

The Sun reported that the ashes of Sutcliffe's father were scattered by his family on the spot where they used to go on holiday.

Sutcliffe was accompanied by four nurses in a high-security van which left Broadmoor on Monday at 5.30am for the 268-mile journey to Cumbria, it added.

A Broadmoor source told the newspaper: "Sutcliffe had previously identified the exact location where his father's ashes were scattered. The spot was pinpointed and assessed by local police for security.

"He had been told shortly after the ashes had been scattered that when the time was right he would be allowed to visit the spot, when the publicity had died down."

Mr Hamilton, Labour MP for Leeds North East - in whose constituency some of Sutcliffe's victims' families live - said he was disturbed by what happened.

"I'm pretty upset about it. I opposed the possibility of his release for his father's funeral. It seemed harsh at the time, but he didn't give any quarter or any sympathy to any of the victims, many of whom were from my constituency.

"I think for the families that survive, this is quite a blow."

Mr Hamilton said he believed that if the Home Secretary approved the visit, he did so on advice.

"He would have been recommended to do this by a mental health review tribunal, that will have examined the facts and the possibility of Sutcliffe being a threat to the public. So it would have been done on very strong recommendation from legally qualified people."

He added: "The fact is that Sutcliffe has been let out, it has been kept a secret, and it has now come out through The Sun newspaper. And my worry is this will cause further grief, further anger and upset for the families that still remember very clearly as if it were yesterday what happened 25 years ago."

Mr Hamilton concluded: "I don't think we should have any sympathy at all with this man, who has been manipulative, who continues to try and manipulate the authorities unsuccessfully, although in this case it looks like he has succeeded."

In May 1981 Sutcliffe was jailed for life at the Old Bailey.

Between 1975 and 1981, Sutcliffe murdered 13 women and left seven others for dead, in a killing spree which terrified the entire country.

He would batter women over the head with a hammer and stab them in the chest and stomach with a knife or a screwdriver.

Sutcliffe claimed at his trial that he had heard "voices from God" telling him to go on a mission to rid the streets of prostitutes.

The Old Bailey jury decided the Yorkshire Ripper was not insane, but a sadistic murderer and he was sentenced to life imprisonment.

Mr Hamilton said: "The fact is, he is the most brutal murderer of modern times."

Keith Hellawell, former chief constable of West Yorkshire who was involved in investigating the full extent of Sutcliffe's crimes after his conviction, said he was surprised to hear about the trip.

Mr Hellawell told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "I think it is a little bizarre and also inconsistent because they have, all the time I was involved with Sutcliffe, refused him any concessions.

"As his father died more than a year ago, it just seems rather odd.

"I don't think it is wrong, personally, because we don't have capital punishment in this country, we do keep people in prison for a long period of time. I think it would be inhuman, personally, not to allow them to do things when there have been serious incidents within their family, such as deaths."

Mr Hellawell said he believed the main concern of the victims' families had been to see Sutcliffe arrested, and justice done.

Of this incident, he said: "Some of them will feel very bitter and very hurt. Others will, I think, take it in their stride."

Mr Hellawell said he did not believe the trip represented the start of a more relaxed approach to Sutcliffe's detention.

"In relation to release, I don't think there is any chance at all in the lifetime of Sutcliffe of him being let out of prison. That is not going to happen. So I don't think this is the thin end of the wedge."

Tory MP Julie Kirkbride, who was at school with one of the Ripper's victims, was scathing about Sutcliffe's visit.

The MP for Bromsgrove said: "I'm outraged by Charles Clarke's decision, which was grossly insensitive to the many families in West Yorkshire who are still grieving over the brutal deaths of their loved ones at the hands of this animal.

"I was a schoolgirl living in West Yorkshire when the Ripper was carrying out his murders. He killed a girl who was in my class at school, very close to my house.

"I don't think it's possible that the Home Secretary understands the fear in which women in West Yorkshire lived for many years, that they would be the Ripper's next victim.

"As far as I'm concerned, being incarcerated for the rest of his life is far too good for him."