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Sentenced to life, the crossbow killer who ate his victims

Stephen Griffiths had long been aware of his compulsion to kill. It was a revelation that he shared with the psychiatrists he saw regularly since his teenage years. The former public school boy even told one probation officer that his murder career would begin "in his early 30s". In the end he waited until shortly before his 40th birthday to indulge his fantasies of control and power over terrified women.

But Griffiths took even this twisted desire to the "ultimate level", planning the deaths of three women, cannibalising and dismembering them before painstakingly trying to cover his tracks.

Yesterday the criminology PhD student, whose murder weapons of choice were a powerful crossbow and a knife, was told he would never be released from jail after admitting killing and eating body parts from three vulnerable sex workers, Suzanne Blamires, Shelley Armitage and Suzanne Rushworth, who plied the streets close to his flat on the edge of Bradford's notorious red light district.

In an emotionally charged hearing at Leeds Crown Court in which the rage and anguish of his victims' friends and relatives repeatedly spilled over in a angry confrontations with the gaunt figure in the dock, Griffiths was given three life sentences for crimes described by the trial judge as "wicked and monstrous". The prosecution read out details of how he dismembered the women with power tools, turning his bathtub into a "slaughterhouse".

Imposing a whole life tariff on the 40-year-old, Mr Justice Openshaw said it was apparent Griffiths received sexual gratification from his killing spree. "It is one thing to terrorise and kill a victim but to terrorise, kill, dismember and then eat parts of a victim is to take the exercise of power to another level," the judge said, adding that Griffiths had shown no remorse or any compassion for the families of those he killed.

Griffiths, who had never held down a full-time job despite an extensive education, suffered from a complex and untreatable personality disorder, it was claimed. It was not that he could not ignore the urge to kill; instead, he chose to do so, the court heard.

Psychiatrists agreed that he was not mentally ill, but preoccupied with murder – particularly multiple murder – and obsessed with the Yorkshire Ripper Peter Sutcliffe, whose reign of terror 30 years earlier continues to cast a shadow over Griffiths' adopted city.

His "morbid interests" included Satanism, terrorism and knives, 30 of which were found in his flat, along with hundreds of journals dedicated to homicide studies, uncovered when police raided the heavily blood-stained premises after a caretaker discovered CCTV images of him shooting his third victim, Ms Blamires, with a crossbow.

Griffiths never explained to police why he chose to kill the three women, all of whom were from loving families, and had turned to prostitution to feed their drug habits. He said only: "Sometimes you kill someone to kill yourself. It is like deep issues inside me."

He described himself as "misanthropic" and said he "didn't have much time for the human race", but insisted he had "nothing against working girls and was not street cleaning like Peter Sutcliffe".

When he told officers he had eaten the thighs of one victim and cooked body parts of another, he said: "That's part of the magic." During interviews he claimed he did not know how many people he had murdered, but he had "killed loads". Psychiatrists who examined Griffiths found him to be "highly intelligent". He had been receiving psychiatric help since he was 17, including a spell in the high security Rampton hospital. In 1987 he received a three-year prison sentence for slashing a store manager in the face. Over the next 20 years there were further convictions, for threatening a girl with a knife, affray, breaching a restraining order and possessing illegal weapons.

Griffiths was well known around Bradford as a loner. Mocked as Penfold for his long black leather coat and for walking his pet lizards on dog leads, he was feared by former girlfriends for his violent outbursts and obsessive, controlling personality. He was part-way through his PhD at Bradford University, entitled Homicide in an Industrial City: Lethal Violence in Bradford 1847-1899, when he became severely isolated and the violent subject matter of his thesis began to exacerbate his underlying personality disorder.

His first victim was grandmother Ms Rushworth, 43, who had not been seen since June 2009. She had been trying to get off heroin and started mending her relationship with her children. His second, Ms Armitage, 31, went missing the following April. She had been taking drugs since she was 16.

Ms Blamires, 36, described by her mother as "bright and articulate", had only been missing a few days in May last year when the caretaker at Griffiths' flats began his regular Monday morning routine of reviewing video footage from the block's 16 security cameras.

At 2.34am, camera 14, which monitored the third-floor corridor outside Flat 33 where Griffiths lived and regularly entertained prostitutes, showed the mature student chasing and then shooting the inert body of a woman with a crossbow. It captured him dragging her by the leg back into his flat, emerging 18 minutes later to brandish the weapon in front of the camera and deliver a one-fingered salute. Griffiths then went back out into the red light area where he tried unsuccessfully to lure his fourth victim – another sex worker, named in court as R – back to his flat where Ms Blamires was laying dead.

Over the following day security cameras caught Griffiths repeatedly leaving his flat carrying a series of bags, a rucksack and a holdall laden with Ms Blamires' body parts – he had dismembered her into 81 pieces. He walked through the centre of Bradford before boarding a train for nearby Shipley where he dumped the remains in the water – a journey he had practiced a week earlier. It was here that police divers were to discover Ms Blamires' body parts, some fragments of Ms Armitage's remains as well as a bag containing tools used in the murders.

Ms Rushworth's body has never been discovered and Griffiths has refused to co-operate with police to help recover it.

When police stormed his flat, Griffiths told them: "I am Osama Bin Laden." On his computer were sadistic images including footage of the dead naked body of Ms Armitage.