Police search home of alleged Ripper hoaxer

A review of the case of "Wearside Jack", who sent police three hoax letters and a tape purporting to be from the Yorkshire Ripper, led officers to the home of 49-year-old John Humble on the Ford council estate in Sunderland on Tuesday night. He was arrested on suspicion of attempting to pervert the course of justice.

The letters and tape, sent 27 years ago by a man with a strong Sunderland accent, taunted officers and diverted vital resources from the investigation ­ as Peter Sutcliffe, who had already killed 10 women, continued to murder three more.

Several investigations into the hoaxer have been abandoned over the years but a cold case review undertaken by West Yorkshire Police's homicide and major inquiry team several months ago has led to the arrest of Mr Humble, who has never been a suspect before.

He may face several days of interviews and police were preparing last night to apply to magistrates for a 90-hour extension to the initial 12 hours available to them to question him.

The tape, sent to Superintendent George Oldfield, the detective who led the hunt for the Ripper, began with the words: "I'm Jack. I see you're still having no luck catching me ..." and was linked to a number of letters sent by the hoaxer.

The letters were destroyed 20 years ago after chemical tests were performed on them and police admitted in July that an internal audit had also failed to turn up the original tape.

But the new police inquiry team, which also worked on the investigation into the bombers from Leeds who attacked London on 7 July, is known to have used new DNA techniques. It is understood that the envelopes the letters were sent in may still exist, raising the possibility they could provide a DNA profile of the hoaxer through saliva traces.

Mr Humble, who is unemployed, is understood to be separated from his wife and to live with his brother, who is in his late 40s. He is known locally as "John the Bag" after his habit of carrying a bag of beer home from the local off-licence.

Neighbours said he and his brother were reclusive and heavy drinkers and that their life on the estate has not been easy. Both have been frequently subjected to abuse by local youths, because of their unusual lifestyle. One of the brothers had recently suffered a knife attack, a resident said.

David Carroll, who claimed to be the nephew of Mr Humble, said he was shocked by the arrest. "I know that is not his voice on that tape," he said. Mr Carroll, 43, said his uncle was born on the Hylton Lane estate, near the scene of last night's arrest, and had no links with the Castletown area, which dialect experts pinpointed as the home turf of the man whose voice was heard on the tape.

Mr Oldfield's inquiries centred for months on Wearside as a result of the two-minute tape, which the officer played to a spell-bound nation in July 1979. Sutcliffe, from Bradford, was questioned a number of times by detectives but eliminated from inquiries before being caught in 1981. Many believe this was because detectives were hunting someone from Sunderland.