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How was Yorkshire Ripper Peter Sutcliffe caught and what happened after his arrest?

The killer was arrested on January 2, 1981

Peter Sutcliffe leaving the Isle of Wight crown court in 1983
Nicky Morris
Nicky MorrisTV and film writer
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ITV's new crime drama, The Long Shadow, delves into the five-year search for Peter Sutcliffe, who was dubbed The Yorkshire Ripper by the press.

Over the course of seven episodes, the series tells the story of Sutcliffe's victims and the police's pain-staking hunt for the killer, who claimed the lives of 13 women and attempted to murder seven others. But how exactly was Sutcliffe caught in the end? Find out here…

WATCH: ITV’s crime drama, The Long Shadow, depicts the five-year hunt for Sutcliffe

How was Yorkshire Ripper Peter Sutcliffe caught by police? 

The hunt for Peter Sutcliffe was one of the largest ever UK police investigations. It spanned almost six years, with 30,000 statements taken and 2.5 million hours expended on catching him.

While he managed to evade justice for numerous years as the police investigated other leads, Sutcliffe was finally caught after being pulled over by an officer in Sheffield on January 2, 1981. 

British serial killer Peter Sutcliffe, a.k.a. 'The Yorkshire Ripper,'© Getty Images
Peter Sutcliffe was pulled over by police in his car in 1981

The killer, who had sex worker Olivia Reivers in his car at the time, was stopped by probationary constable Robert Hydes, who noticed Sutcliffe's false number plates. 

He was arrested, but before he was taken to the station, Sutcliffe claimed that he was "bursting for a pee" and stashed a knife, hammer and a rope behind an oil storage tank. When he got to the station, he concealed another knife in the toilet cistern. 

The following day, Sergeant Robert Ring decided on a hunch to return to where Sutcliffe was pulled over and discovered the weapons. 

Kris Hitchen, Lee Ingleby, Stephen Tompkinson, Toby Jones and Jack Deam in The Long Shadow© ITV
The Long Shadow depicts the five-year police investigation

After two days of intensive questioning and a search of his home, Sutcliffe confessed to being the killer the police had spent years looking for. 

Over the following day, Sutcliffe described his attacks and even claimed to have heard voices telling him to commit the crimes. 

He eventually pleaded not guilty to 13 charges of murder, but guilty to manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility. 

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Gemma Laurie as Wilma McCann in The Long Shadow
© Justin Slee
Gemma Laurie depicts one of Sutcliffe's victims, Wilma McCann

What was Peter Sutcliffe's sentence? 

After a two-week trial at London's Old Bailey, Sutcliffe was found guilty of murder on all 13 counts and attempting to murder seven other women. 

The judge sentenced him to twenty concurrent sentences of life imprisonment.

Katherine Kelly as Emily Jackson in The Long Shadow
© Justin Slee
Katherine Kelly plays victim Emily Jackson in The Long Shadow

During his trial, he said: "It was just a miracle they did not apprehend me earlier. They had all the facts."

Then in July 2010, the High Court issued Sutcliffe with a whole-life tariff, meaning he was never to be released.

How did Peter Sutcliffe die? 

Peter Sutcliffe died at University Hospital of North Durham at the age of 74 on 13 November 2020. 

Peter, who had several long-term physical health conditions including Type 2 diabetes, angina and paranoid schizophrenia, went into hospital to have a pacemaker fitted and is thought to have contracted coronavirus during his stay. 

His condition worsened over the course of a few days and he eventually died.