Yorkshire Ripper declined shielding in prison before dying of Covid, inquest hears

Serial killer Peter Sutcliffe refused to be shielded in prison in the months before he died from coronavirus, an inquest has heard.

Wednesday, 22nd September 2021, 12:10 pm

Sutcliffe, also known as the Yorkshire Ripper, had been warned he was vulnerable to coronavirus by authorities at Frankland Prison near Durham.

Coroner Crispin Oliver, sitting in Crook, County Durham, was told that Sutcliffe, who changed his named to Coonan, died aged 74 at University Hospital of North Durham at 1.45am on November 13, 2020.

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Peter Sutcliffe, who changed his surname to Coonan, was a prisoner in HMP Frankland in Durham and died in the city's hospital in November last year.

Sutcliffe was serving a life sentence at Frankland for the murders of 13 women in the 1970s, and was in poor health.

One of his last acts in prison was to fall from his bed while trying to change the channel on his television, the inquest heard.

He did not suffer any injury in the fall which happened before he was admitted to hospital for the final time.

Mr Oliver was told that Sutcliffe had heart disease and diabetes – both risk factors for Covid-19.

The killer was first taken to hospital on October 27 after feeling dizzy and being diagnosed at the prison’s healthcare unit with a blocked heart.

He returned to Frankland on November 4 and it was after this first hospital stay that he tested positive for Covid 19.

Prison nurse Angela Spence said Sutcliffe was treated with antibiotics for a cough and his health deteriorated and he had a rapid heart rate.

Prison governor Lee Drummond said Sutcliffe went in and out of hospital on both November 8 and November 9, before being admitted a final time the next day.

His next of kin – ex-wife Sonia Woodward – was informed of his deteriorating health, the inquest heard.

She was aware of the inquest and was invited to attend in person or remotely, but declined, the coroner heard.

Mr Drummond said vulnerable prisoners had been warned of the dangers of coronavirus after the country locked down in March.

They were offered measures similar to shielding in the community, being kept apart from other inmates at meal times and to use the phone, but Sutcliffe turned down the offer.

Mr Drummond said Sutcliffe was considered a retired prisoner, meaning he did not have to work unless he wanted to, and his health stopped him from doing tasks.

Sutcliffe, who arrived in 2016 after being held at Broadmoor secure psychiatric hospital, was a category A prisoner and was held on Alpha wing – “a more relaxed environment” for prisoners with mobility issues.

Sutcliffe’s crimes terrified northern England in the 1970s. He confessed of his crimes to West Yorkshire Police after being arrested in Sheffield by South Yorkshire Police for driving with false number plates in January 1981.

However, Mr Drummond said: “For such a high-profile prisoner he was very unassuming and went about his daily business.”

Detective Constable Alistair Rogowski investigated Sutcliffe’s death, a routine process for police when a prisoner dies behind bars.

He said the jail’s Covid lockdown meant it was impossible to investigate his cell, but there was no evidence to suggest anything other than a death from natural causes.

Pathologist Dr Clive Bloxham, appearing by videolink, said his post-mortem examination revealed Sutcliffe had “extremely heavy lungs” – typical of someone with coronavirus.

He said the cause of death was Covid-19 infection, with heart disease and diabetes contributing.