After the trial of Peter Sutcliffe, two inquiries were set up to determine what had gone wrong in the hunt for the Yorkshire Ripper. The Secretary of State for the Home Department, William Whitelaw, instigated an inquiry headed by the Inspector of Constabulary, Lawrence Byford, who was assisted by members of the "Super Squad", the external advisory team originally set up in November 1980 to investigate the murders.

UPDATE: June 1 2006
Under the Freedom Of Information Act 2000 the Byford Report is released to the public, as well as the Home Office file relating to investigations into the Yorkshire Ripper Inquiry. Available for viewing at:
Report by Sir Lawrence Byford into the police handling of the Yorkshire Ripper case
Home Office file relating to investigations into the Yorkshire Ripper Inquiry

UPDATE: May 20 2011
Cabinet Office papers:
The Yorkshire Ripper Case - Cabinet Office (.pdf file)

(NOTE: All above links valid as of December 30 2012)

The second inquiry into the Yorkshire Ripper case was instigated by West Yorkshire Chief Constable Ronald Gregory. This internal police inquiry was headed by Assistant Chief Constable Colin Sampson (later to become Chief Constable of West Yorkshire after Ronald Gregory's retirement).


On January 19 1982, the Secretary of State for the Home Department, Mr. William Whitelaw, made the following statement to the House of Commons: "With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement on the review of the Yorkshire Ripper case carried out, at my request, by Mr. Lawrence Byford, one of Her Majesty's inspectors of constabulary.
"I asked him to report on any lessons which might be learnt from the conduct of the investigation and which should be made known to police forces generally. Mr. Byford was assisted in his review by the external advisory team set up in November 1980. He was also able to take account of views put to him about this tragic case by relatives of the victims, who greatly appreciated the opportunity to voice their misgivings."
"I have now received and considered Mr. Byford's report and I am extremely grateful to him for it. I should like to let the House know of its main conclusions and recommendations. A more detailed summary has been placed in the Library."
"It is apparent from the report that there were major errors of judgement by the police and some inefficiencies in the conduct of the operation at various levels. In particular, excessive credence was given to the letters and tape from a man claiming responsibility for the series of murders and signing himself 'Jack the Ripper'. Another serious handicap to the investigation was the ineffectiveness of the major incident room which became overloaded with unprocessed information. With hindsight, it is now clear that if these errors and inefficiencies had not occurred Sutcliffe would have been identified as a prime suspect sooner than he was. Mr. Byford's report concludes that there is little doubt that he should have been arrested earlier, on the facts associated with his various police interviews."
"I would remind the House that the Ripper case gave rise to the largest criminal investigation ever conducted in this country, imposing a great strain on all concerned. It would have been surprising if in this unprecedented situation there were no mistakes. What we now have to do is to respond constructively to the considerable experience gained in the course of it in order to ensure that future investigations of crimes such as this are carried out as effectively and quickly as possible."
"I turn, therefore, to the lessons for the future and to the recommendations made by Mr. Byford. As will be seen from the statement in the Library, they deal comprehensively with the management requirements of the investigation of a series of major crimes, the training of senior detectives and personnel working in major incident rooms, the command of investigations involving a number of crimes which cross force boundaries, the harnessing for such investigations of the best detective and forensic science skills in the country, and the use of computer technology."
"I welcome Mr. Byford's recommendations on these matters. They are already being followed up with representatives of the police service. They provide valuable guidelines for the operational conduct of very large criminal investigations in police forces generally. They will require a constructive commitment at all levels of the police service."

Report Information And Findings
(NOTE: The following also includes preliminary findings and information published in November 1981 by the Sunday Times).
Lawrence Byford and his inquiry team spent five months on their inquiry and probed every aspect of the police investigation, sifting mountains of documents, and interviewing junior and senior detectives from Yorkshire, Manchester, Lancashire, and Northumbria. They heard about personality clashes between some senior detectives, as well as information about damaging leaks to the press of highly confidential information. Also taken into consideration in their inquiry were the many criticisms of the investigation, and they took into account views expressed by interested persons, including relatives of the victims.

The Byford report found major errors of judgement, as well as the fact the police operation at various levels contained some inefficiencies. One serious error was the excessive credence given to the letters and tape sent from Sunderland. The Wearside connection "evidence" should have been treated with extreme caution, and the available evidence did not justify the supposition by the Ripper police that the author was the murderer. This lead to the gross mistake of eliminating suspects, including the Yorkshire Ripper, Peter Sutcliffe, based on handwriting samples and voice identification compared to the letters and tape.

The ineffectiveness of the major incident room was a serious handicap to the Ripper investigation. While it should have been the effective nerve centre of the whole police operation, the backlog of unprocessed information resulted in the failure to connect vital pieces of related information. This serious fault in the central index system allowed Peter Sutcliffe to continually slip through the net as the evidence and details of clues against him, including the many interviews, were split up and divided between at least two separate name index cards, instead of one. Lost among thousands of other cards, they were never "married" together. As well, also unintentionally, a file on Peter Sutcliffe was broken into different parts. These events prevented the clearest possible evidence against him from being presented through the card index system. The West Yorkshire police had considered using computers for the records of the major incident room, but, at the time, suitable facilities did not exist.

Peter Sutcliffe was interviewed by police a total of nine times during the Yorkshire Ripper investigation. Often the interview officers were inadequately brief before the interviews, primarily due to the ineffectiveness of the major incident room. As well, the credence placed on the letters and tapes sometimes conditioned the attitudes of interviewing officers, and sometimes the officers concerned were simply not positive enough in their approach.

Most crucially, the failure of the major incident room allowed Peter Sutcliffe to escape further scrutiny when, in the summer of 1979, he was named as a prime suspect by Detective-Constable Andrew Laptew in a report to his superiors.

Other criticisms of the investigation included the fact that alibi evidence from relatives of suspects, which normally would have been regarded as unreliable, was accepted. As well, many people were questioned about crucial dates often months after a particular attack had taken place.

The criteria used to reduce the number of suspects seen driving through two or more red-light areas should have been introduced earlier to prevent the backlog of inquiries due to the failure to reduce the 30,000-odd names.

The failure to give sufficient attention to common elements in Photofit impressions obtained from survivors of hammer assaults, or those involving serious head injuries, resulted in the failure to discover an almost perfect Photofit description of Peter Sutcliffe from an early attack in August 1975. Tracy Browne survived the head injuries she received in an attack near Keighley, which bore all the hallmarks of what were clearly identified as Ripper attacks. The assault was only weeks after the first official Ripper attack on Anna Rogulskyj in Keighley, yet, amazingly, Tracy Browne was never included as a Ripper victim. Marilyn Moore, attacked in December 1977, and included as a Ripper victim, provided a description and Photofit which later turned out to look impressively similar to the one produced by Tracy Browne in August 1975. No connection was drawn between the two Photofits, even though both men had thin beards, moustaches and dark wavy or curly hair. Both cases were dealt with by the West Yorkshire police force. As well, Marilyn Moore's Photofit was soon afterwards withdrawn from circulation.

The Byford report stated that most officers involved in the case worked diligently and conscientiously throughout the Ripper investigation. With hindsight, Peter Sutcliffe should have been identified as a prime suspect if the errors of judgement and inefficiencies in the conduct of the operation had not taken place. Peter Sutcliffe could have been caught at least 18 months before he was finally arrested.

From the experience gained in the examination of the Yorkshire Ripper case, the Byford report made the following recommendations for the handling of "series" crimes:

Standardisation of the procedures for major incident rooms must be achieved so that systems compatible with one another are introduced in all police forces. Major incident rooms should be adequately staffed. Police decisions on important lines of inquiry likely to lead to a consequential flow of information from the public on a large scale should include a forecast of the staff required.
The operational efficiency of a major incident room will greatly depend on the extent to which the staff allocated to it are specially trained. A major incident room index system should be subjected to a continuous process of audit. The crucial consideration is that the misplacing of a single card in a nominal index system can jeopardise a whole inquiry.

Computers should be able to offer a senior investigating officer in a major crime inquiry a more simple and effective means of handling the information flow generated. One computer project designed to meet that need is to be given a full-scale trial shortly but there is a pressing need to have a shorter term solution to the many problems experienced in the Ripper case and which might arise in the future. The Home Office should make available to chief constables guidance in the use of computers in a crime investigation.

Where crimes within a connected series occur, especially in different force areas, special arrangements need to be made for the command of the coordinated inquiry. There needs to be one officer in overall command with the authority to direct the course of the investigation in all the police areas affected.
An inquiry into "series" crimes call for a high degree of corporate management. There should be regular meetings of the senior management team, and the recording and circulation to officers involved of major police decisions.
The senior investigating officer in a "series" crime investigation should not have any other responsibility. The career development, training and selection of senior detectives need to be improved so that they have the management skills to meet the demands of an inquiry on the Ripper scale.

There should be better training of senior investigating officers of the rank of assistant chief constable to equip them with the management skills required for the conduct of a large-scale inquiry. Similarly there needs to be appropriate management training for officers of chief superintendent or superintendent rank.
There should be adequate training for staff of major incident rooms. When records are computerised it would be essential to ensure that these staff are well trained in the use of visual display units and printer terminals. The techniques of interviewing deserve great attention in police training programmes and should be dealt with very thoroughly during detective training courses.

In major "series" crime investigations there must be a mean of harnessing the best detective and forensic science talent in the country. To that end an ad hoc advisory team should be immediately available for use on a consultancy basis as required. HM Chief Inspector of Constabulary in consultation with chief officers should designate the team and make arrangements for the identification at an early stage of cases in which it should be employed.

The public are entitled to accurate information about serious crime from the media. The police need to understand that they have a positive duty to assist the media to report and comment responsibly and should make appropriate arrangements to this end.

Reaction To The Report
William Whitelaw was queried by MPs about any possible disciplinary action taken as a result of the report, and replied that the Chief Constable would not be removed from his office, and "I have represented to the West Yorkshire police authority that there are certain officers in the force whom I would not be prepared to agree should go forward for promotion to assistant chief constable."

The Chief Constable of West Yorkshire, Ronald Gregory, said, "The findings of this report are similar to those already identified by our internal inquiry and I can say little different to what I have already said." He also added, "I have already accepted that there were errors of judgement; errors which are not now difficult to see, but when the investigation was current they were much less obvious. The enormity of the Yorkshire Ripper inquiry has left its mark on the West Yorkshire police, but we will be better equipped in the future. Our methods of investigation and training will be reviewed, and no doubt the police service will learn from our experience."


The Sampson report, by the then Assistant Chief Constable Colin Sampson, was released on June 30 1983. The inquiry began on the day Peter Sutcliffe's trial ended in May 1981. The report had been completed and submitted to Chief Constable Ronald Gregory in October 1981. Consisting of nearly 200 pages of detailed information, the report was not published on the advice of Chief Constable Ronald Gregory due to a number of operational reasons, including impending appeals, and the fact there were several unsolved murders and attacks requiring further investigation and they did not want to prejudice further inquiries. While Peter Sutcliffe had not (at the time of publication) confessed responsibility to any further attacks, and the current police inquiries were low-key, the file had not been closed.

Ron Darrington, the chairman of the West Yorkshire police committee, when distributing the report, said that the committee had decided to release the report due to the publication of Ronald Gregory's memoirs in the Mail On Sunday, which effectively removed the restraints imposed by the former chief constable against publication for operational purposes. The 60-pages of conclusions were titled "Report into the Investigation of the Series of Murders and Assaults on Women in the North of England between 1975 and 1980," The report was almost totally confined to the review and scrutiny of the records and documents that had accumulated in the incident room during the Ripper murders investigation. There was no attempt made to determine or prove any individual blame. "Research was undertaken objectively, but it has to be accepted that, with the benefit of hindsight, matters which to the investigators might have seemed confused and uncertain were now, because the offender was known, clear and unambiguous."

The internal report states that the last six victims of the Yorkshire Ripper might still be alive if West Yorkshire police had been more efficient in collating the mass of information early in the series of killings. The police missed every clue which pointed to Peter Sutcliffe, as those clues were lost in the filing systems, or later, because they did not fit the frame because of the police belief that the tape recording and letters were genuine. The Ripper incident room was saturated with reports and could not cope with the mass of information. This caused files not to be acted on in reasonable time, and resulted in detectives being sent on inquiries without knowledge of what had happened in previous interviews. As well, a report by Sutcliffe's friend, Trevor Birdsall, naming him as a possible suspect was lost in the incident room.

The handling of the Yorkshire Ripper investigation contained mistakes, incompetence, administrative confusion, and a lack of persistence and vision. There were some mitigating factors. The West Yorkshire force was working under-strength for most of the five-year manhunt. They also had to cope with demands on resources "without precedent in modern policing." There were also other demands on the police force. During the 1975-1980 time period there were 163 murders, including 11 in the Ripper series. Only eight murders currently remain unsolved. There were also 31 other homicides, 469 rapes or attempted rapes, and 1,170 assaults with weapons on women.

The acceptance of the tape and letters as authentic from the killer "totally misled the investigation." For more than a year and a half they became the central theme of the hunt, and put the investigation so far off course that it still had not regained direction at the time of Peter Sutcliffe's arrest in Sheffield.

The decision to release the tape and letters to the press and public was a matter of professional judgement. "If the tape and letters had been genuine and the police had failed to publish them, the public, the media and the police service would have rightly condemned the West Yorkshire police for withholding information which might have led to the swift identification of the offender. It was also important to trace this person, even if he was a hoaxer, to eliminate him from the inquiry. There was really no choice but to publish, a view apparently not disagreed by any of the senior officers representing the West Yorkshire, South Yorkshire, Greater Manchester, Lancashire, Humberside and Northumbria forces who attended a conference held at Halifax on 20 June 1979, by Assistant Chief Constable Mr. George Oldfield."

There was no doubt that everyone was led to the conclusion that the police believed that the murderer, and the voice on the tape and author of the letters, were one and the same person. This was evident in the fact that a suspect could be eliminated based on any one of five factors. Two of those factors created a most serious situation, if the suspect's accent was not Geordie, or if the suspect's blood group was other than B, which was the indicated blood group based on saliva tests on the envelopes. By using a mixture of eliminating points, some from the murders, and others from the letters and tape, it meant that both the murderer and the author of the tape and letters would be eliminated if they were not the same person.

The report said that arguments will continue for years as to why the police regarded the tape and letters as authentic. "The information contained in the letters and tape revealed knowledge of the series, and a number of vague predictions were made some of which materialised." it says. All details in the letters had been published at one time in the national Press. The "predictions" were also so vague as to not warrant much credence. "There was, it is suggested, insufficient evidence to have positively concluded that they were genuine and to use the inferences thus drawn as a point of elimination. The decision was wrong and the consequences serious."

The turning point in the investigation should have occurred after the attack on Marilyn Moore in December 1977 in Leeds. Sutcliffe had by then killed seven times. She provided a Photofit of her bearded attacker, which bore a remarkable resemblance to Peter Sutcliffe, and also a description of his car. "If her Photofit had been compared with those by other survivors, the similarity is so striking that it is beyond belief they would not all have been linked and considerable emphasis given to tracing the bearded man. One name that would certainly have emerged was that of Sutcliffe as he had already been seen and his description provided in November 1977. If Sutclffe had been reinterviewed at any point soon after December 1977, the officers would have seen his striking resemblance. Women are not attacked with hammers with any regularity for no apparent reason. There was a failure during the investigation to link incidents with the series. The criteria were too narrowly drawn. An open mind should have been kept and the information, particularly the physical description, regularly assessed."

The bearded man had turned up in two other attempted murders. "It is difficult to understand, even recognising that the benefit of hindsight exists, why certain cases were excluded from being possibly connected and, while publicity was given to the description of Miss Moore's attacker, little weight was given to this aspect during the investigation. Had this been done, and linked with others, the investigation might have been resolved much earlier."

Marcella Claxton, who was attacked in Leeds in May 1976, also had a Photofit of a man with a black beard. The attack should have been included as a "possible" Yorkshire Ripper attack. If this had been done, the information available, especially the description of the man and his car, would have linked with similar information that came from later attacks. The Photofit also backed up Marilyn Moore's description of her attacker.

Former Chief Constable Ronald Gregory revealed in his memoirs in the Mail On Sunday that an attack on Tracy Browne in August 1975 was linked with the Ripper attacks in the review carried out by Colin Sampson for the following reasons: "The Photofit is unmistakably that of Peter Sutcliffe. Forensic and medical evidence later suggested that Tracy was hit with a hammer or similar instrument. The stranger who attacked Tracy was standing near a white Ford car - and Sutcliffe drove a white Ford Corsair when he murdered his first victim, prostitute Wilma McCann, eight weeks later. Sutcliffe's admission of the attack on Anna Rogulskyj."

Peter Sutcliffe was interviewed a total of nine times during the hunt, but he was not even on the list of most likely suspects. The police investigation touched him on two points. Firstly, the 5 note found on one prostitute victim, Jean Jordan, that was part of a numbered batch paid out in wages by certain firms, including the transport firm he worked for. Secondly, the numerous sightings of his car in red-light districts. The report notes that Sutcliffe might have been checked out in more detail if attention had been paid to Marilyn Moore's physical description of her attacker, and other surviving victims descriptions of men with beards.

The report also criticised some detectives interviewing skills and that examination showed in cases a certain lack of depth. "It begs the question as to whether detectives always knew what was required of them. Were they properly briefed? That everyone was under pressure cannot be denied. But there seems to have been a lack of persistence and follow-up in respect of the interviews with Sutcliffe."

Of the nine interviews with Peter Sutcliffe, only the two detective constables involved in the fifth interview had carried out a thorough inquiry. It was the most crucial interview as they followed up information to the point where they were not satisfied. Unfortunately, Scotland Yard files that showed Sutcliffe had once been found carrying a hammer were not consulted. "Even then the matter was not picked up and pursued. The situation was influenced greatly by the letters and tape but it is difficult to understand any experienced detective, on reading the report, not directing that further attention be given to Sutcliffe."

This fifth interview, which took place in July 1979, came about because Peter Sutcliffe's vehicle had been seen in red light areas of Bradford, Leeds and Manchester. Due to the backlog of unprocessed reports in the incident room, the two constables were unaware that Sutcliffe had been interviewed previously. Sutcliffe explained his presence in Bradford as travelling between work and home, the Leeds sightings were a result of when he visited a nightclub, and he denied the Manchester sightings. He could not account for his movements on crucial dates, and said that when he went out it was always with his wife. She had verified that. Both officers did note Sutcliffe's similarity to the Photofit.

In his Mail On Sunday memoirs, Ronald Gregory revealed further information: "So the Laptew report was simply marked 'File' when it eventually found its way into our index system, nine months after the interview. My deputy, Colin Sampson, recorded a blunt verdict when he investigated this mistake - because of course a mistake it was, a very serious one: 'The senior detectives who saw the Laptew report should have appreciated that a further inquiry was necessary.'"

The report also mentions that a review of the police investigation at the time of the Ripper murders by Commander Jim Nevill from the Metropolitan Police recommended that it would be prudent to re-evaluate all suspects who had been cleared due to handwriting or lack of a Geordie accent. "While many of Commander Nevill's recommendations were implemented, no action appears to have been taken to reconsider suspects eliminated purely on handwriting or accent. If it had, Sutcliffe's position would have been re-examined." Peter Sutcliffe had, in fact, been eliminated as a suspect on the strength of handwriting tests compared against the letters from the hoaxer.

The report also criticised the lack of loyalty by some members of the police who disclosed information to the Press. This "must be unequivocally condemned. Such disclosures are harmful, and, in some cases, influence decision-making. Leaks must be stopped, and the use of a central information release point, away from the incident room and the incident commander, should be encouraged. Whenever Press releases are made in respect of sensitive information, or in circumstances which are regarded as delicate, this should normally be effected by means of a prepared statement without a question session afterwards."

In the section "Conclusions and lessons learned," the report states: "A number of things went wrong during the inquiry, mistakes were made, errors of judgement occurred, administrative standards and professional conduct did not always measure up to that expected, from which lessons for the future should be learned."

One of the recommendations is the monitoring of computer development with the view of using computers in investigations. Computer-assisted procedures would have helped in the processing of records in the incident room, but they were not available during the Ripper Investigation, nor are they available at the present time.

The report also said that "officers need to regain status and move forward without enduring continual criticism, either collectively or individually. The force has to re-establish its standing and adopt a forward as opposed to a backward-looking philosophy."

(NOTE: Source material (Byford report): Hansard (House of Commons), The Times, Sunday Times. Source material (Sampson report): The Times, Daily Telegraph, Mail On Sunday, Irish Times, London Free Press (Canadian newspaper).)