The Long Shadow: The true story of the hunt for Peter Sutcliffe

Star-studded new ITV drama chronicles the capture of the Yorkshire Ripper

Toby Jones as DCS Dennis Hoban and Lee Ingleby as DCS Jim Hobson in The Long Shadow. (ITV)
Toby Jones as DCS Dennis Hoban and Lee Ingleby as DCS Jim Hobson in The Long Shadow. (ITV)

Content advisory: This story contains distressing details that may cause upset

Toby Jones, David Morrissey and an all-star cast gather in ITV's The Long Shadow to tell the gripping true story of the murderer Peter Sutcliffe and the rollercoaster events that led to the capture of the killer dubbed in the press as the Yorkshire Ripper.

Throughout seven hour-long episodes, this ITV true crime drama will take viewers through the gripping five-year quest to bring one of the country’s most notorious and bloody serial killers to justice.

At the same time, Lupin and Litvinenko screenwriter George Kay will give this harrowing tale an emotional and sobering depth by telling the story from the point-of-view of the victims’ grieving families, alongside the authority figures tasked with bringing Sutcliffe to justice.

Pulling from real-life case files, archive documents and interview transcripts from those who lived through this tense and bloody ordeal, The Long Shadow promises to offer edge-of-your-seat viewing.

However, the real story of the hunt for Sutcliffe is just as nail-biting.

Who was Peter Sutcliffe?

Peter William Sutcliffe AKA the Yorkshire Ripper was ultimately caught in 1981. (Alamy)
Peter William Sutcliffe AKA the Yorkshire Ripper was ultimately caught in 1981. (Alamy)

Peter Sutcliffe is a British serial killer also known as the Yorkshire Ripper. He was caught and arrested in Sheffield in 1981 and later found guilty of the murders of 13 different women and the attempted murder of seven others between 1975 and 1980. Many of his victims were prostitutes.

After his killing spree was finally brought to a close, he was given 20 consecutive life sentences and ultimately died in prison in 2020 aged 74.

How was Peter Sutcliffe caught?

David Morrissey stars as DCS George Oldfield in The Long Shadow. (ITV)
David Morrissey stars as DCS George Oldfield in The Long Shadow. (ITV)

Sutcliffe began assaulting prostitutes in 1974 and 1975 and despite his actions being brought to the attention of local authorities soon afterwards, he managed to remain at large until he ultimately committed his first murder in October '75.

After murdering 28-year-old Wilma Mary McCann, West Yorkshire Police opened an investigation to bring her killer to justice, thus starting a five-year case that would be filled with fumbles, near-misses and unfortunately, more murders.

A year later, Sutcliffe killed again, stabbing 42-year-old Emily Monica Jackson 52 times and later attacking Marcella Claxton, a 20-year-old who was pregnant at the time. Despite suffering intensive injuries, Claxton survived but miscarried as a result of Sutfliffe’s horrific attacks.

In 1977, Sutcliffe attacked and killed four more women, including 28-year-old Irene Richardson, 32-year-old Patricia Atkinson-Mitra, 16-year-old Jayne Michelle MacDonald and 20-year-old Jean Bernadette Jordan.

He also attacked two others — 43-year-old Maureen Long and 25-year-old Marilyn Moore — who both survived their encounters, albeit with extreme injuries.

Newspaper photos of victims of Peter Sutcliffe. (Alamy)
Newspaper photos of victims of Peter Sutcliffe. (Alamy)

While these atrocities were taking place, the police were working to capture Sutcliffe.

Despite having a witness for Long’s attack, a misidentified vehicle led Sutcliffe to slip through the cracks. However, they had more luck while investigating Jordan’s murder thanks to a traceable five-pound note that led authorities to Shipley and Bingley branches of the Midland Bank in West Yorkshire.

During this period, the police interviewed around 500 different men — including Sutcliffe — but he was once again able to avoid detection thanks to a seemingly credible alibi as to his whereabouts during key moments.

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Katherine Kelly as Emily Jackson in The Long Shadow. (ITV)

By 1978, Sutcliffe had been ruled out as the potential Yorkshire Ripper killer by investigators and as a result, went on to kill 17-year-old Yvonne Ann Pearson, 18-year-old Elena Rytka and 40-year-old Vera Evelyn Millward. The murder of 19-year-old Josephine Ann Whitaker followed in 1979 while the police were distracted by tapes containing messages and newspaper letters that supposedly came from the Yorkshire Ripper.

Due to the voice on the tapes having a Wearside accent, the hoaxer was dubbed 'Wereside Jack' and took up a lot of valuable police time. Meanwhile, Sutcliffe continued his violence spree, killing 20-year-old Barbara Leach in 1979 and remaining at large, despite being re-interviewed by police twice that year.

1980 saw Sutcliffe encounter the police once again after being pulled over for drunk driving and yet he was still able to continue killing, murdering 47-year-old Marguerite Walls and 20-year-old Jacqueline Hill later that year.

Yorkshire Ripper Peter Sutcliffe photographed in 1983, two years after his arrest. (Alamy)
Yorkshire Ripper Peter Sutcliffe photographed in 1983, two years after his arrest. (Alamy)

In 1981 he was pulled over by police again, this time with a prostitute in his car. Authorities quickly realised that his car had fake number plates and after noticing that he matched many of the Yorkshire Ripper descriptions given by those who had survived attacks, he was brought into the station — but not before he had time to ditch key murder weapons, including a knife, rope and a hammer.

After two days of questioning, Sutcliffe eventually admitted to being the Yorkshire Ripper, with his discarded weapons later discovered by police.

By this point, it is believed that he had been questioned by authorities nine different times over the five-year period that it took to put him behind bars.

The Long Shadow airs on ITV1 and ITVX at 9pm on Monday, 25 September.

Read more: True crime

Watch a trailer for The Long Shadow