Tess Finch-Lees: Sutcliffe is a danger, mostly to himself

Talk of releasing the Ripper is misguided

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More than 10 years ago I was employed as a group therapist at Broadmoor hospital. My brief was to work on the "high profile" ward with patients whose crimes were so notorious that they had to be isolated. I could choose the group members, but there was a definite steer to include Peter Sutcliffe. Apart from medication, he had declined most other therapeutic interventions. To say I didn't go out of my way to persuade Sutcliffe to join my group would be an understatement. I was repulsed by his crimes and didn't think I could work with him. Despite all my efforts, he signed up and I was able to work with him.

Although Broadmoor is a secure psychiatric hospital, it feels like a prison. The staff are predominately nurses, but some behave like prison officers. As soon as you strap a chain of enormous Dickensian keys around your waist it's hard to resist the swagger of power. A male nurse had to accompany me on my sessions. On one occasion, a dinosaur decided to give me a lesson in male supremacy. He went to the toilet, locking me in a room alone (a no-no) with seven of the most dangerous patients in Broadmoor, among them Peter Sutcliffe. Despite being terrified, I couldn't protest. It would have sabotaged progress that took months to achieve. Instead, I found myself adopting the demented tones of a Blue Peter presenter on speed, and hoping no one would notice. It was the longest three minutes of my life.

The staff member who deliberately put me in a life-threatening situation showed more misogyny in those few minutes than Sutcliffe did in all the time I worked with him. In fact, I never felt threatened by Sutcliffe. It was his infamy that intimidated me. While I completely concur that Sutcliffe seemed to be low risk, certainly when I worked with him, I vehemently disagree that he should be released.

This isn't about his perceived level of risk. His diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia is not in dispute (among the experts). While it can be managed with medication, there is no cure. Sutcliffe's level of risk to women is dependent on his regularly taking his medication. The more freedom he is afforded, I believe, the less this can be monitored and controlled.

After almost 30 years of incarceration, Sutcliffe is as debilitated by institutionalisation as he is by his illness. In my opinion, not only would he struggle to cope without the constant care and structure of Broadmoor, but he would be unable to protect himself against the inevitable reprisals that would await him.

Obviously, Peter Sutcliffe has the right to appeal against the decision not to release him, but I fear he's being badly advised. The troop of lawyers and medical professionals involved in Sutcliffe's case must know that there is little likelihood of his ever being released, whatever the deemed risk. They must know, too, that release would result in an increased risk to his safety. I can't help but feel that pursuing Sutcliffe's case on the grounds of "human rights" is disingenuous at best. At worst, it could be construed as exploitation, both of Sutcliffe himself and of the victims' families.

It is not in anyone's interests to rake up the trauma of the past, least of all if there's a hint of publicity mongering. On the contrary, I believe it's cruel and irresponsible. It gives Sutcliffe false hope and it is an affront to his victims and their families.

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