Home Office defends Ripper's day trip to mourn his father

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The Independent Online

The Home Office defended its decision to allow Peter Sutcliffe, the Yorkshire Ripper, to visit the place where his father's ashes were scattered yesterday, saying it was the "right thing to do".

Sutcliffe, 58, left Broadmoor high-security special hospital accompanied by four members of staff and visited the site at Arnside in Cumbria on Monday.

Charles Clarke, the Home Secretary, ratified a decision by his predecessor David Blunkett to allow his temporary release on compassionate grounds.

The move, has been strongly criticised by some politicians.

The murderer was allowed a day visit to the coastal town where his father, John, spent holidays, to grieve over his loss. Last June he was refused compassionate leave from Broadmoor to attend the funeral of his father in Bradford. John Sutcliffe, 81, died from cancer at a hospice near his home in West Yorkshire.

Sutcliffe was accompanied by four nurses in a high-security van which left Broadmoor at 5.30am on Monday for the 268-mile journey to Cumbria. The local police had been alerted to the trip.

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."

The Home Secretary needs to give consent for any such visits by prisoners on compassionate grounds. The "under- standable potential distress" of victims or victims' families is also taken into account.

Between 1975 and 1981, Sutcliffe murdered 13 women and left seven others for dead, in a killing spree which terrified the 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. An Old Bailey jury decided that the Yorkshire Ripper was not insane, but a sadistic murderer and he was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1981.

The decision to release him on the day trip has caused a political row. Tim Collins, the shadow education secretary whose Westmorland and Lonsdale constituency covers Arnside, said he had written to Mr Clarke seeking a "cast-iron guarantee" that Sutcliffe would not be allowed to return.

Fabian Hamilton, the Labour MP for Leeds North East - in whose constituency the families of some of Sutcliffe's victims live - said: "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."

Julie Kirkbride, the Tory MP for Bromsgrove, West Midlands, who was at school in Halifax with one of the Ripper's murder victims, Josephine Whittaker, 19, said: "I do not think the Home Secretary lives in the world the rest of us do if he thinks this is the right decision to take."

But Harry Smelt, whose wife Olive survived an attack by the killer in Halifax in 1975, said: "I think all the victims have moved on now. They have their lives to live. We have grandchildren and a family. Let's bring it to an end."

The decision was described as "absolutely right" by the editor of The Prisons Handbook, Mark Leech.

He said: "There is nothing wrong in this, it is a humane decision in relation to a patient detained in a secure special hospital."