Wicked Beyond Belief

Christopher Owens reviews a book about the Yorkshire Ripper murders and draws attention to what it did not say. 

The 1970's seem as distant as the 1798 rebellion in 2019, even though they're probably the decade that shaped the modern world more thoroughly than any other decade.

But it's not so far removed that we can't discover some ugly truths behind the decade.

First published in 1999, former Sunday Times journalist Michael Bilton presents us with one of the first books to focus exclusively on the police investigation of the murders committed by Peter Sutcliffe. Other books have certainly dealt with the topic, but tended to focus more on Sutcliffe himself and his activities. In this, Sutcliffe is often a bit part player, only appearing when necessary.

With this approach, Bilton is able to explore the history of West Yorkshire, detailing the levels of poverty and immigration that has shaped the area, as well as treating the narrative like a crime novel.

This approach works brilliantly, as the reader finds themselves being absorbed into the West Yorkshire of the late 70's. Like Jack the Ripper nearly a century ago, the Yorkshire Ripper murders epitomised and highlighted attitudes of the time. A time when women were expected to know their place, the National Front were on the rise and where endemic levels of poverty meant that women were forced to become sex workers in order to help feed themselves and their family.

It's a truly toxic environment, and even more disturbing in this day and age. Bilton handles the background of each victim somewhat sympathetically (the section on Irene Richardson spending her last few nights destitute, sleeping in public toilets, had me in tears of rage and despair). While he notes that the perception was that victims who weren't sex workers were seen as "innocent" by police and the media, he doesn't delve into this enough to show the perceived culture of sexism of these times (Leeds United fans could be heard chanting "Yorkshire Ripper 13 - Women's Lib 0"), which is a disappointment but one that could be excused because of the main narrative.

The investigation (notorious for being a grotesque shambles) is depicted as being manned by well meaning officers like George Oldfield and Dick Holland, but the amount of paperwork and endless information being offered led to a "punch drunk" atmosphere where clues were missed (such as the photo fits that kept showing a dark haired, bearded man, the Nine interviews with Sutcliffe over every leading clue in the case), false information was considered to be genuine (like the infamous letters and tape) and, as a result, more people needlessly died.

Certainly, the reader does get the feeling of "going round in circles" as the book progresses, feeling like being on a hamster wheel. It's to Bilton's credit that, by doing this, we as readers feel the malaise and feeling of being stupefied by ever mounting information. In circumstances like this, it's easy to see how an entire investigation could veer wildly off course.

In circumstances like this, Wicked Beyond Belief overturns some stones and lets us see the dark secrets that lay behind this seismic case.

However, there is an even darker secret behind this tale that Bilton doesn't inform the reader, and it's one that alters the whole perspective of the police investigation: that Oldfield and Holland have histories of framing innocent people for murder.

In Oldfield's case, it was Judith Ward (sentenced for the IRA M62 coach bomb). He based her case on inaccurate scientific information (the same techniques that convicted the Birmingham Six and Guildford Four) and concealed evidence from her defence counsel. When she was acquitted, Oldfield was posthumously criticised by the ruling judge for his efforts.

Not to be outdone, Holland was involved in one of the most disturbing and disgraceful miscarriages of justice in British legal history: Stefan Kiszko. According to David Peace," twenty-four-year-old Kiszko, who had physical and mental problems, was told that if he signed a confession he could go home to his mother. He would spend 16 years in prison before his conviction was quashed in 1992. Evidence that Kiszko could not have produced the semen found on Lesley Molseed's (the murder victim) clothing was withheld during his original trial." He would develop schizophrenia in prison (thanks to his isolation and his treatment) and would die not long after his release.

And these were the two men in charge of the investigation.

In both cases, Bilton is deliberately disingenuous. There is no mention whatsoever of Kiszko and, while the M62 bombing is discussed, he focuses on Oldfield's reaction at the carnage, with a quote from a family member talking about how the sights and sounds haunted him for years (I wonder if the Ward conviction caused him loss of sleep as well).

All of this is designed to present a 'human' side to the much maligned Oldfield, and it is utterly wrong. It was well known that the Ward and Kiszko convictions were what led to the two men being tasked with the Ripper investigation. No wonder the whole thing turned out to be a fucking farce with utterly horrendous consequences (the loss of three lives that, according to the Byford Report, could have been prevented).

Well worth adding to your bookshelf, but be aware of the agenda being pushed.

Michael Bilton, 2012, Wicked Beyond Belief: The Hunt for the Yorkshire Ripper. Harper Press ISBN-13: 978-0007450732

⏩  Christopher Owens was a reviewer for Metal Ireland and finds time to study the history and inherent contradictions of Ireland.

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Anthony McIntyre

Former IRA prisoner, spent 18 years in Long Kesh. Free Speech advocate, writer, historian, humanist, and researcher.

20 comments to ''Wicked Beyond Belief "


  1. The myth of the police being there to to “service” the community must only be held by a select few these days. There are many such myths, but too few heroes. The most we hope for is they fail those the newspapers portray as scum more than us on our own rubbish pile.

  2. I have read some odds and sods on the Yorkshire ripper and aside from the bent cops involved in the case there are theories that Sutcliffe didn't commit all of the murders , the names of the the authors escape me at the moment but I believe there was a book entitled, The Real Yorkshire Ripper which actually fingered an Irish guy , Billy something or other , I think Sutcliffe committed killings he wasn't convicted of but I'm also of the opinion he was a convenient scapegoat for the cops to clear up a few unsolved murders.

    1. That has been thoroughly debunked.

  3. Excellent review, Chris. I had read the book and am familiar with the Kisko framing but was completely unaware of George Oldfield's involvement in the Judith Ward travesty. Thanks for filling that particular knowledge gap. To my intense embarrassment, I do recall vividly the "There is only one Yorkshire Ripper chants from the Elland Road terraces at the time.

  4. One of the victims was found very very close to Sir Jimmy saviles abode. For that reason you would imagine the boul Jimmy wouldve distanced himself from suttcliffe when he was granted control of broadmoor(by folk sitting in the House of Lords) rather than indulging him by bringing celebrities in to see him? But then again 'nobody knew Jimmy was a sex abuse monster'!(no laughing at the back)

  5. Staffenberg...You are talking about Billy Tracey. I wouldn't rule him out.

    @Chrisopher..Seperate Q..Ever thought about penning a book on the late 70's early 80's Punk/Rockabilly/music scene in Belfast...?

    1. Frankie, I think Brian Young would be the best man for that job!

  6. On the contrary Sutcliffe may well have started his killing spree as far back as 1967.

    1. The book does speculate on his involvement in the murder of Fred Craven in 1966. However, as Keith Bannon has already noted: "Peter Sutcliffe had been arrested in March 1965 and charged with attempting to steal from an unattended motor vehicle and was subsequently fined £5 at the Bingley West Riding Magistrates Court on May 17 1965. Sutcliffe would have been fingerprinted at the time of this arrest (and again in 1969 when charged with going equipped for theft). Any outstanding fingerprint evidence from the Craven and Tomey crime scenes (assuming that the fingerprint evidence was from the perpetrator), would have been compared against the files in the Fingerprint Bureau for the (at the time) West Riding Police. Therefore, Peter Sutcliffe would have been eliminated as the perpetrator of these crimes due to his fingerprints having been on file at the time."

      He definitely started attacking people in 1969.

  7. Frankie , Yes Billy Tracey , a brute of a man by all accounts , a drifter and sometime handyman , for the life of me I can't recall who it was who wrote about him but they knew him personally which could suggest some sort of grudge.

  8. Yes Barry , without a doubt Sutcliffe is a serial killer and a multitude of mistakes by the cops mentioned in the article allowed him to kill more victims , I was a young teenager when the media was filled with his activities , given the nature of the not so honest coppers involved it stands to reason there were some killings he didn't do and also others which he has never been held accountable for.

    The conduct of the media surrounding his actions and subsequent trial had him hung drawn and quartered before he even stood in the dock , the fella Frankie mentioned , Billy Tracey is without a doubt a suspect in some off the murders Sutcliffe was convicted of , unless of course they committed them together.

    1. As I said earlier, already debunked.

  9. Christopher, just spoke to the Bear and he said he will talk Brian...Bear is starting to put somethings on paper..He has been doing it on and off for a wee while..All I know is there is a book that could easily follow on from Good Vibes or talk about the same scene from a different angle. I know someone who's father was an original Punk (prod) and he married a Modette (she was a bit of shinner)... Original Harp Bar site in Belfast set to be turned into boutique hotel

    The original site of the Harp Bar is set to be turned into a boutique hotel.

    A planning application has been submitted to turn the space on Hill Street , which was last occupied by the Housing Executive until March last year, into a 17 bedroom hotel with restaurant and bar.

    The building, between the Black Box and Bunsen Burger, was once home to Northern Ireland's top punk venue, form 1978 to 1982.


    All I know is Belfast during the 80's wasn't all bombs, bullets and sectarianism..Some of us had a good time..

  10. Christopher , perhaps you don't like people with German names but you always disagree with anything I post , refer to other threads , in your review of the book you mention the two corrupt coppers who stitched up Judith Ward and Stefan Kiskow , you're making an obvious point the pair of them are dodgy , you then argue they couldn't possibly have fitted up Sutcliffe , you have contradicted yourself not once but twice.

    1. How exactly have I contradicted myself? I've pointed out that the "two Rippers" theory has been debunked based on the available evidence. There was ample evidence at the time that Ward and Kiszko had been fitted up. Conversely, there was a long standing rumour that the hoaxer was a disgruntled peeler (for which there was no evidence), and that never gets mentioned nowadays. Confirmation bias may be great for fiction and conspiracy theories, but it doesn't help when trying to get to the truth of the matter. Yes, Oldfield and Holland have horrendous pasts. Yes, their handling of the Ripper case was a shambles. But fitting Sutcliffe up? No evidence.

      As well as this, Oldfield and Holland had nothing to do with his arrest, that was a different police district altogether, outside their jurisdiction.

      What you can level at them (and the West Yorkshire Police) is the haste to get him to trial, meaning that many assaults (and at least one other murder) that he was suspected of were never put to him. Those victims have to live with the uncertainty of never knowing if their attacker is behind bars or not.

  11. Conspiracies only exist when more than one perpetrator is involved , according to you Sutcliffe acted alone , you did mention conspiracy Didn't you Christopher , it was a chap called Humble from Sunderland who made the hoax calls , he got put away for it a few years back , a local alcoholic and a village idiot type , not an ex copper.

    I have read Brannens theories in regard to what O, Gara has written , what we have there are two people who are experts on nothing simply arguing the toss with each other so in no way does Brannens theories debunk the belief amongst some there was another killer operating during the rippers activities.

    1. You've conveniently missed my point about the hoaxer theory: just because it's repeated often enough doesn't make it true.

      And your second paragraph is an utter cop out. You stated: "I think Sutcliffe committed killings he wasn't convicted of but I'm also of the opinion he was a convenient scapegoat for the cops to clear up a few unsolved murders."

      Then I point out the evidence which contradict this theory and you offer no response to it other than it doesn't debunk the theory, which it clearly does. And the subsequent twists and turns in O'Gara's theories, plus the lost libel case, demonstrate that he isn't a reliable person.

  12. Christoper , you have no evidence to contradict it and neither does Brannen.
    Ogaras blog is years old , back in the early 2000s , the cops have their convictions which means they're not looking for anyone else , should forensic exhibits ever be examined again then given advances in that particular field of science since the early 1980s I'm sure another suspect could well be in the frame for some of the killings.

    My earlier posts rather than my previous one in regard to Sutcliffe getting fitted up for some murders but not charged with others is perfectly rational , in dodgy cop land that sort of conduct is an every day occurrence.

    1. You can ignore Brannon's claims all you want, but it doesn't challenge what he says. If Tracey couldn't drive at the time of the early murders, then he couldn't have committed them!

      Yes, framing innocent people does happen. But do you have any proof that Sutcliffe was a victim of this practise?

  13. Christopher , I'm not implying Sutcliffe is an innocent man , I believe he committed killings which were never part of the ripper inquiry and could well pre date those that were , on the other hand it's quite possible given the times and the nature of police conduct he may well have been fitted up for some he didn't do , no I can't prove it as I'm not a forensic scientist , as for Billy saying he couldn't drive , I'm with O,Gara on that one , I believe he could drive.


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