Peter William Sutcliffe (born 2 June 1946) is a British serial killer who was dubbed by the press “The Yorkshire Ripper” during his crime spree. In 1981 Sutcliffe was convicted of murdering 13 women and attempting to murder seven others.
Since his incarceration, in prison and whilst in Broadmoor, Sutcliffe has been attacked several times.
ATTACKER: JAMES COSTELLO
ATTACK DATE: January 10 1983
PLACE: Parkhurst Prison, Isle Of Wight
James Costello, aged 35, attacked Peter Sutcliffe in F2, the hospital wing of Parkhurst Prison, on January 10 1983. Costello, from Glasgow, had made 28 court appearances between 1963 and 1980, nine of them in relation to violence, and 15 appearances resulting in prison sentences. He had been convicted in 1980 for possessing a firearm with the intent to endanger life, possessing a firearm with intent to resist arrest, and possessing a firearm without a certificate. He had received a 10 year sentence. He had been diagnosed as mentally ill at Parkhurst, and was awaiting transfer to Broadmoor.
The attack took place while Peter Sutcliffe was getting water in a plastic bowl. James Costello entered the recess, and as Sutcliffe turned to leave, he smashed him twice on the left side of face with a broken coffee jar before Sutcliffe managed to push him away. Sutcliffe had four wounds requiring 30 stitches. One deep cut ran five inches from near his mouth to his neck, and another was two-and-a-half inches long, running from his left eye to his ear. He also had two smaller cuts on the eyelid and below the eye. Sutcliffe had lost about a pint of blood and had gone into a mild state of shock. He required an operation to repair superficial muscle damage.
On January 11th, the day after the attack on Sutcliffe, Kerry Macgill, his solicitor, said: “The prison doctor, who is employed by the Home Office, and the visiting professor have sectionalised Sutcliffe under the Mental Health Act. Moves will continue to get him transferred to a secure psychiatric unit.” In September 1982, the prison medical office, Dr David Cooper, and a consultant forensic scientist, Professor John Gunn, both recommended that Sutcliffe should be transferred to a top security mental hospital under Section 72 of the Mental Health Act. Section 72 provides that the transfer to a mental hospital cannot be made without the approval of the Home Secretary. In December 1982, the Home Secretary, William Whitelaw, had rejected the transfer, saying that Sutcliffe would remain at Parkhurst in the public interest. It was understood that he feared that a transfer would have been seen by the public as a soft option for such a killer.
While James Costello was transferred to Broadmoor soon after the attack, the Home Office reiterated that Peter Sutcliffe would remain at Parkhurst. Sutcliffe was finally transferred to Broadmoor by the new Home Secretary, Leon Brittan, on March 27 1984.
On April 14 1983, Peter Sutcliffe gave evidence about the attack at Newport Magistrates Court on the Isle of Wight. Graham Grant-Whyte, for the Director of Prosecutions, told the court of the attack on Sutcliffe in which two blows were struck that left him with four wounds. Two hospital officers had witnessed part of the incident and had separated the two men. When asked what had happened, James Costello said that Sutcliffe had attacked him.
In his testimony, Sutcliffe said that shortly before 6:00 pm on January 10th his cell had been unlocked and he went to get some water in a plastic bowl. “As I was turning the tap off I became aware of someone else in the recess. I didn’t pay particular attention to who it was. I took about two strides, that’s all, and all of a sudden I was the subject of a particularly nasty unprovoked attack. The first thing I was aware of was a glinting coming from a glass container. I saw it glinting just before it hit my face. That was the first I saw of it when a person used it to cause severe damage.” Sutcliffe pointed to the left side of his face, “It hit me there.”
Sutcliffe stated that he had seen the man before, but did not know his name. “He had time to smash into my face twice before I could do anything. I just put my arms out. Before I held him at arms length the glass smashed on the floor. I quickly put the bowl in the sink and stuck my arm out to keep him away from me. Blood was coming from his hand and then some hospital officers came running in.” He said he only realised Costello had something in his right hand just before before it hit his face. “The only thing I noticed was when it was practically in my face. There was only a thousandth of a second before it smashed into my face. There was no chance to avoid it or anything.”
Peter Sutcliffe was cross-examined by Peter Ader, for the defence. “What’s the position today about your mental state? Are you stable now?” Sutcliffe replied, “I don’t know whether I am the person you should ask about things like that.” Sutcliffe did agree that he had been “hearing voices” this year. Mr Ader asked, “Telling you to do or what not to do?” Sutcliffe answered, “Just giving me advice when I get depressed.”
About whether Sutcliffe was having difficulties in his relationships with other prisoners, Mr Ader asked. “Aren’t you a rather unpopular person?” Sutcliffe said, “Yes, but it does not affect me because it is an ignorant opinion they hold. Anyway, they just do not understand.” Mr Ader inquired, “Haven’t you had trouble with other prisoners taunting and provoking you?” Sutcliffe stated, “I just don’t take any notice.” When Mr Ader claimed that the other prisoners made comments which upset him, Sutcliffe replied: “It depends on what you mean by upset. I just feel sad at their attitude, at their ignorance. They don’t know anything at all. They interpret it as they think. It has no effect on me. They don’t understand. I don’t crave their company anyway.”
When questioned about whether he would gain financially from the case, Peter Sutcliffe stated, “There is no point in my trying to gain financially from anything,” and said it was wrong to suggest either he or his family would gain financially. He had not even made a claim for compensation for his injuries. When asked by Mr Ader, “Aren’t you aware that your story is worth money in terms of selling it to the Press?” Sutcliffe angrily retorted, “That’s what is wrong with society today – the greed, immorality and depravity. All they think of is finance. There’s no moral values at all.”
James Costello did not give any evidence. A submission by Mr Ader that the case be dismissed as it “rests solely on one witness and this is a witness who manifestly has a great deal to gain from success in this case and a witness who is, in the way he gave his evidence, manifestly unreliable,” was rejected by the magistrates. Costello was committed for trial at Newport Crown Court and granted legal aid. The magistrates also rejected a request by Mr Ader for the trial to be held at Winchester Crown Court.
The trial of James Costello, charged with maliciously wounding with intent to cause grievous bodily harm, began on October 31 1983 at Newport Crown Court on the Isle of Wight with Judge Lewis McCreery presiding. James Costello had dismissed all his lawyers and was defending himself.
Christopher Leigh, prosecuting, told the jury to put anything they knew about Peter Sutcliffe from their minds. “All men are equal before the law, be they high or low, good or bad, and the rule of law extends to our prisons as much as it does to the streets or our homes. That man Sutcliffe is just as entitled to the protection of the law as you or I.”
Brian Dyer, hospital senior orderly at Parkhurst, stated that the F2 wing and its landing are a mental observation area for psychiatrically disturbed prisoners. He also stated, during questioning from Costello, that glass articles were not allowed in the wing and the furniture was made from compressed cardboard, rather than wood, so that no one could injury either themselves or others.
Peter Sutcliffe, who spent over two hours in the witness box, stated he had been a victim of a carefully planned attack carried out by Costello “in seven seconds” with a broken coffee jar which had scarred his face and neck. He had not spoken to Costello either before or during the attack.
Giving his evidence, Sutcliffe said: “I decided to go from my cell, No. 11, to the recess to get some water. I had a plastic bowl with me. I filled the bowl with hot water, and as I was turning the tap off I noticed someone else come into the recess, and that it was Costello, although I did not know his name at the time. I glanced at him. As I turned away from the sink and began to walk back to the cell with the bowl I had taken only a couple of strides when suddenly I was smashed in the face with a broken coffee jar. I saw very little, just a glint of something sharp. There was no time to avoid it.” This first blow had split his left top eyelid and gashed his left ear.
“This was quickly followed by another blow and a gash about five inches long to my neck. After the second one I turned away quickly, put the bowl on the sink and held my arm out to keep Costello away. I thought I had lost my left eye actually.” Costello had dropped a tee-shirt during the attack and Peter Sutcliffe picked it up to use on the blood. “There was blood spurting out of my neck and my eye all over the walls,” he said.
When James Costello questioned Peter Sutcliffe, several times they clashed verbally, and occasionally Sutcliffe caused laughter with his reply to Costello’s questions. As well, both men, particularly Costello, had to be rebuked many times by Judge Lewis McCreery for raising “irrelevant matters” about psychiatric issues and for unnecessary exchanges.
During his testimony under questioning from James Costello, Peter Sutcliffe admitted that he had become “a cell recluse”, was reluctant to mix with other prisoners, and was preoccupied with legal matters.
James Costello defense to the charges is that Peter Sutcliffe had attacked him, and that he had only been defending himself. He stated, “What I am suggesting is that the Prison Service does not want the public to know Sutcliffe was in a position in the prison to attack me. It has been a cover-up.” In reply to that claim, Sutclife said, “That’s absolutely ridiculous.”
Costello claimed that Sutcliffe attacked him after a confrontation between the two of them over allegations that Sutcliffe had “censored” an article in the Sun newspaper which had been about the January prison siege at Parkhurst. The Sun newspaper was circulated every morning among the prisoners in the wing. Sutcliffe admitted that he had blotted out an article about vice and prostitutes in the newspaper with his artist’s paint, and that he would occasionally cut out “things of a libellous nature in the Sun before passing it on.”
While admitting that he still heard voices giving him advice, Sutcliffe denied Costello’s allegation that they had instructed him to kill him. When asked by Costello if he would be upset if he was transferred to a psychiatric hospital, Sutcliffe replied: “Yes, I would. I have always told them there is nothing wrong with me and I prefer to stay in prison.”
During his testimony, Sutcliffe said to Costello, “I am being generous answering these questions because you need all the help you can get from psychiatrists, not from the courts.”
On November 1st, Judge Judge Lewis McCreery stopped the trial and ordered a new jury, stating, “Since I rose last night circumstances have come to my attention which necessitate my discharging this jury and starting again with another jury.” He told the jury “What I have mentioned has got nothing whatsoever to do with the accused and is no reflection on any of you in the slightest.”
When the trial restarted on November 2nd with a new jury, Judge Lewis McCreery refused to elaborate on why he had stopped the first trial, and stated that neither the jurors nor the accused were responsible for his decision. The evidence was again presented to the new jury.
As with the first trial, during cross-examination James Costello and Peter Sutcliffe again clashed. When Costello suggested that Sutcliffe had attacked him, Sutcliffe replied, “I didn’t, and you know it. There was no question of any argument or fight.” Sutcliffe also stated that he had not heard the voices he occasionally hears the night before the incident. Costello asked, “Have you ever thought you heard me say I was going to kill you?” Sutcliffe answered, “Yes, at the time of the incident. But I didn’t put it in my statement to the police because I could not swear to it.” Costello inquired, “Do the voices tell you to attack people?” Sutcliffe stated: “You won’t raise that with me. You are getting into something you can’t understand.”
On November 3rd, Dr Brian Cooper, Parkhurst prison’s principal medical officer gave evidence at the trial, stating that Peter Sutcliffe had lost as much as a pint of blood in the attack, and also required 30 stitches for the cuts on his face and neck. He also said the James Costello had been suffering from a personality disorder of a psychiatric type. “He could react in a violent way.”
When questioned by James Costello, Dr Cooper agreed that Peter Sutcliffe was mentally ill at the time of the attack. Costello asked, “Would his mental illness make him likely to attack someone?” Dr Cooper replied, “Women,” and said it would be unlikely that Sutcliffe would ever attack a man.
During the trial, the prosecution had suggested that the motive for the attack might have been the fact that Sutcliffe was a sex killer, and such killers were very unpopular with other prisoners. Costello had told the jury that Sutcliffe was the most unpopular man in the prison.
Due to Costello defending himself, the trial almost became farcical as Sutcliffe and Costello traded insults. Once Sutcliffe, openly disdainful, said to Costello “I answer questions like that to qualified people, not idiots like you.” Costello retorted, “You are the one that has got the scar.” As well as trading insults with Sutcliffe, James Costello frequently clashed with the judge. A number of times he demanded a new trial before a new judge.
On November 7th, the jury found James Costello guilty, by a 10 to two margin, of wounding Peter Sutcliffe with intent to cause him grievous bodily harm. After hearing the verdict, Costello kicked open the dock door and stormed out of the dock swearing at the jurors. He was also heard shouting, “I proved my case.” Later, while being driven away from the court, he shouted to bystanders, “How can anyone use too much violence against the Ripper?”
Judge Lewis McCreery, after Costello’s outburst, deferred sentencing until the following day. He also said that his decision to start a new trial before another jury after the first day had been because he had discovered that a person on the jury was known to him, but had not recognised him.
On November 8th, James Costello was sentenced to a further five years. Judge Lewis McCreery said to him: “You inflicted appalling injuries on Sutcliffe. You are one of the most dangerous and evil men it has ever been my misfortune to encounter.”
Refusing to wait his turn to speak, Costello stated, “People are saying that I was swearing at the jury yesterday when I was convicted. I was not. I was swearing at you. The jury are honest people who were misled.”
After constant interruptions, the judge, warned Costello he would sentence him for contempt of court if he did not remain quiet. Costello said: “You can put me on bread and water if you like. Don’t forget you are sentencing me for defending myself, not for attacking.”
Costello also told the judge, “I don’t understand how any man can get sentenced for using too much violence against a guy who has killed 13 people and had me by the throat. I know I am a violent man. I was not well at the time. I was on my way to Broadmoor.”
In 1996, Costello talked about the attack in an interview in the Daily Record: “We were both in the Parkhurst Psychiatric Wing. I was doing 22 years for carrying a gun and resisting arrest. Peter Sutcliffe was always swaggering about with his minder, a nutter called Wakefield. So I got my chib (made out of a coffee tin lid) and done him when his minder was slopping out. I remember Sutcliffe roaring like a wounded animal.”
“My original diagnosis at Broadmoor was that I was a psychopath. The consultant read this out in court and it was taken up by the newspapers, which was degrading. I felt Sutcliffe was a psycho, but not me. I hadn’t slaughtered all those women. But then I was rediagnosed paranoid schizophrenic when I admitted hearing voices.”