Jack the Ripper is 'most evil' Briton

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The Independent Online

The serial killer who preyed on prostitutes in the Whitechapel area of London in 1888 has lost none of his notoriety. Nearly 5,000 people voted for their least favourite figure from a shortlist representing each century over the past millennium in a poll for BBC History Magazine.

The Ripper received 24 per cent of the vote, more than twice that of his nearest rival. Thomas Becket, who divided England as Archbishop of Canterbury by quarrelling with Henry II over the rights of the church before being assassinated around 1170, came second with 11 per cent.

Others making the top 10 included Eadric Streona, King Aethelred II's chief counsellor, who betrayed his country by switching sides when the Danish king Cnut invaded England in 1015, and Robin Hood's nemesis King John.

The British Fascist leader Oswald Mosley, a Tory MP in the 1930s before becoming disillusioned and founding the notorious Blackshirts, was 10th.

The legends surrounding Jack the Ripper have become a complex muddle of genuine historical research, conspiracy theory and dubious folklore. The lack of a confirmed identity for the killer has led authors, historians and amateur sleuths to suspect a wide variety of candidates.

Dave Musgrove, editor of BBC History Magazine, said: "The choice of Jack the Ripper over the likes of Oswald Mosley as the worst Briton reflects the fact that the Victorian murderer remains an iconic figure today, and perhaps is seen as the forerunner of today's serial killers."

The top 10

1. Jack the Ripper (19th century)

2. Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury (circa 1120-70)

3. Eadric Streona (died 1017)

= King John (1167-1216)

= Sir Richard Rich, Lord Rich of Leighs (1496/7-1567)

= Titus Oates (1649-1705)

= Prince William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland (1721-65)

8. Thomas Arundel, Archbishop of Canterbury (1353-1414)

= Hugh Despenser (the younger)

10. Oswald Mosley (1896-1980)