Why Netflix’s new serial killer documentary has sparked criticism

Netflix has been accused of “glorifying” serial killer Peter Sutcliffe’s crimes by relatives of his victims.

Netflix’s The Ripper caught the attention of true crime fans a wee while back, when it was first announced that the streaming service was working on a documentary about the Yorkshire Ripper murders.

“Chronicling the twists and turns of the largest police manhunt in British police history, this evocative four part series re-examines the crimes within the context of England in the late 1970s,” reads the official synopsis, promising to offer viewers a new insight into “a time of radical change, de-industrialisation, poverty, masculinity and misogyny, all of which contributed to the Ripper evading capture for so long.”

However, while the relatives of Peter Sutcliffe’s victims worked with the makers of the docuseries to ensure their loved ones’ voices are heard, they have since accused Netflix of “glorifying” the serial killer.

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The series – which is due to air on Wednesday 16 December – was originally going to be called Once Upon A Time In Yorkshire, according to The Sunday Times.

However, the name was later changed to The Ripper, prompting the victims’ families to write an open letter of condemnation.

“The moniker ‘the Yorkshire Ripper’ has traumatised us and our families for the past four decades,” they wrote.

“It glorifies the brutal violence of Peter Sutcliffe, and grants him a celebrity status that he does not deserve.”

Noting that they felt betrayed by Netflix, they added: “Please remember that the word ‘ripper’ relates to ripping flesh.

“The repeated use of this phrase is irresponsible, insensitive and insulting to our families and our mothers’ and grandmothers’ legacies.”

The letter is signed by relatives of seven of Sutcliffe’s victims – Emily Jackson, Patricia Atkinson, Jayne MacDonald, Vera Millward, Olive Smelt, Wilma McCann and Irene Richardson – as well as survivors Marcella Claxton and Mo Lea.

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Responding to the criticism, Netflix told The Sunday Times: “This is not a series about Sutcliffe but a sensitive re-examination of the crimes within the context of England in the late 1970s.

“This was a time of radical change: a time of poverty and misogyny in which Sutcliffe’s victims were dehumanised by the media and the police, and that resulted in the perpetrator evading capture for five years.”

As per the BBC, Sutcliffe was given the name ‘the Yorkshire Ripper’ by the press, as it was an allusion to Jack the Ripper – another unidentified serial killer.

In May 1981, he was convicted of murdering 13 women between 1975 and 1980.

Their names were:

  • Wilma McCann, 28, Leeds, October 1975
  • Emily Jackson, 42, Leeds, January 1976
  • Irene Richardson, 28, Leeds, February 1977
  • Patricia Atkinson, 32, Bradford, April 1977
  • Jayne McDonald, 16, Leeds, June 1977
  • Jean Jordan, 21, Manchester, October 1977
  • Yvonne Pearson, 22, Bradford, January 1978
  • Helen Rytka, 18, Huddersfield, January 1978
  • Vera Millward, 41, Manchester, May 1978
  • Josephine Whittaker, 19, Halifax, May 1979
  • Barbara Leach, 20, Bradford, September 1979
  • Marguerite Walls, 47, Leeds, August 1980
  • Jacqueline Hill, 20, Leeds, November 1980

He was also found guilty of attempting to murder seven other women, all of whom were left traumatised by their ordeals.

Indeed, as Claxton – who was attacked in Leeds in the early hours of Sunday 9 May 1976 – told Sky News: “I have to live with my injuries, 54 stitches in my head, back and front, plus I lost a baby. I was four months pregnant.

“I still get headaches, dizzy spells and black outs.”

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Sutcliffe sentenced to 20 consecutive sentences of life imprisonment, which was then changed to a whole life order in 2010.

He died in prison earlier this year, prompting the late McCann’s son, Richard, to tell BBC News: “The attention he’s had over the years, the continuous news stories that we’ve suffered over the years, there is some form of conclusion to that.

“I am sure a lot of the families, surviving children of the victims may well be glad he has gone and they have a right to feel like that.”

Images: Netflix

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