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Son of Yorkshire Ripper victim recalls ‘beautiful’ moment he learned of killer’s death

Written by on 13 November 2020

The son of the Yorkshire Ripper’s first known victim has described the “beautiful moment” his 13-year-old son told him the serial killer was dead.

Richard McCann also revealed to Sky News that he had contacted the brother of murderer Peter Sutcliffe to offer his condolences.

“What’s beautiful about today, if you can use that word for any of this, is that the news about what happened to him was broken to me not by a phone call or media but by my son,” the 51-year-old said.

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Richard McCann, son of Wilma McCann, has described his painful childhood

“My little boy came to me and said, ‘Dad, he’s died’ as his friend at school had told him – and that to me was a beautiful moment.”

Mr McCann was five years old when his mother, Wilma, became the first of 13 women murdered by Sutcliffe in the north of England between 1975 and 1980.

The 62-year-old son of Sutcliffe’s second victim Emily Jackson told Sky News he was relieved to hear he’d died. Ms Jackson was stabbed 52 times by Sutcliffe in Leeds in 1976.

Her son, Neil Jackson, told Sky News the murder ripped apart his family.

More from West Yorkshire

“He didn’t just kill my mum, he killed our family – some of us haven’t spoken these past 40 years.”

“Good riddance to him – at least we can stop paying to keep him.”

Sutcliffe was sentenced to prison in 1981 and spent several years in hospital with schizophrenia before returning to jail.

The 74-year-old died in hospital while serving his whole-life term, after reportedly refusing treatment for COVID-19.

Mo Lea was a 20-year-old art student when she was attacked by Sutcliffe in Leeds in 1980. She said it was deeply disturbing that she never got a confession because she “knew it was him”.

“I had seen him. The police knew it was him. It was the same modus operandi, but even though he is dead it doesn’t change anything,” Ms Lea said.

“I’m not going to feel cheated by his death. I know it happened. I don’t feel a sense of relief, I have to perhaps learn that the truth finally will never come out.”

But for Mr McCann, the death offered some relief and closure, though it was nothing to celebrate.

“It’s the most surreal thing to be part of. I’m just happy that that part of him being alive is now over, and for the families there’s some peace to come of that,” he said.

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The Yorkshire Ripper murdered at least 13 women starting in 1975

Mr McCann said he also has “some compassion” for Sutcliffe’s brother, who he phoned to send his thoughts.

“He did the same for me years ago when I wrote my book,” he added.

Recalling his traumatic childhood, Mr McCann said he didn’t appreciate the scale of Sutcliffe’s crimes because he was shielded from the details.

“As I got a little bit older and started reading newspapers I saw what was going on, but I don’t think it’s until I became a man [that I really understood].”

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The families say many victims were treated poorly by police and media

As time passed, McCann had learned that while Sutcliffe was a huge part of his life, “he’s also not”.

“I allowed him to be a big part of my life and me to be affected by those news stories, and to think about them, and to remember what he did and what my mum went through, but I’ve got my own family now,” he said.

“I’ve spoken to my family, my children, sat them down and explained to them who their grandmother was, but we don’t spend time thinking about it.

“We are just like anybody else, we’ve got all the problems such as homework and I focus on them.”

British serial killer Peter Sutcliffe, a.k.a. 'The Yorkshire Ripper,' in police custody, 1983. (Photo by Express Newspapers/Getty Images)
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The Yorkshire Ripper in police custody in 1983

Just as the tragedy forced him to mature early, he said his children have “come to understand some of the darker sides of life that other children aren’t exposed to” but that they just want to get on with their lives.

“It has been a life sentence and it’s something that in those earlier years caused me a lot of trauma and shame,” he said.

“But I’ve come to terms with losing my mum. Him dying doesn’t change anything for any of us. We’ve still lost our mums, our sisters, our daughters.”

Asked what he hoped could come of the tragedy, Mr McCann said he wanted West Yorkshire Police to apologise for their “shocking treatment” of his mother, a sex worker.

Wanted poster. Pic: Simon Wilkinson/Shutterstock
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A wanted poster for the serial killer during the police hunt. Pic: Simon Wilkinson/Shutterstock

This treatment filled him with shame and he recalled often lying about his mother’s identity as a young adult.

“I shouldn’t have had to do that – that was my mum – but it’s because of the way police, society and the media described her and that stuck with me,” he said.

“It was an appalling way to describe some of the women – sorry to say this – as innocent – inferring that in some way some of the women were less innocent, including my mum, and somewhat deserving of what happened to them.”

(Original Caption) January 4, 1981 - Sheffield, England: This is the scene in a red light district late on the street where police arrested a man identified as Peter Sutcliffe for questioning in relation to the "Yorkshire Ripper" murders.
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This is the red light district street in Sheffield where Sutcliffe was arrested in 1981

He said police have “come a long way” in their sensitivity towards the victims’ memories and families, but not far enough.

“The final and only really positive thing that is left to come from this horrendous saga is for them to do the right thing and to set the record straight and to make that apology for how my mum and many other women were described,” he said.

While that would “not only be deserved, but well overdue,” he said it still wouldn’t bring his mum back.

A hooded Peter Sutcliffe, then 35, being taken into court to be charged with murder
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A hooded Peter Sutcliffe, then 35, being taken into court to be charged with murder

“But I will keep her memory alive. She was a mother, a daughter, a sister – and until the day that I go, she’ll be sadly missed.”

Shortly after the Sky News interview with Mr McCann, the chief constable of West Yorkshire Police apologised to Sutcliffe’s victims for “the language, tone and terminology used by senior officers at the time”.

“Such language and attitudes may have reflected wider societal attitudes of the day, but it was as wrong then as it is now,” John Robins said.