Names and identifying details have been changed to protect privacy.
A mental health tribunal has recently deemed that Peter Sutcliffe, perhaps better known as the Yorkshire Ripper, may now leave Broadmoor and return to a mainstream prison for the first time since 1984. Sutcliffe, who murdered 13 women in West Yorkshire between 1975 and 1980, was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia in 1984 and has been in Broadmoor ever since. Transfer to a mainstream prison will not improve his chances of eventual release, however, as Sutcliffe is one of a relatively small group of prisoners in the UK to have been issued the now controversial whole-life tariff, meaning that he will die in jail.
I teach at a prison. I decided to ask my class of reluctant playwrights how they felt about potentially one day having the UK's most notorious serial killer mixing with them on the A Wing table tennis table.
'THEY'D HAVE HIS HEAD IN DAYS'
Tim, 60, is serving six months for his role in a small scale cannabis operation that ran out of his grandson's house. The oldest person in the class, he's served over 20 relatively short sentences since Sutcliffe was transferred to Broadmoor.
I ask Tim whether he thinks bringing Sutcliffe back into the prison population would be a good idea. "Well, short answer is a big fucking no. Every single lad wanting to make a name for himself will be after him, they'd have his head in days, maybe even hours." But surely there would be extra security around him, at least initially? "They could stick him with the nonces, but he might refuse. He wants to get back in the land of the living so I doubt he'd be happy with that. He'd always be a target, maybe that's what he wants? Obviously still mad as a box of frogs."
Tim goes on to say that he personally wouldn't have much of a problem with Sutcliffe. "I don't think I'm his type," he laughs. Tim suggests that there'd be even less trouble from the prison officers. "Screws are thick as anything, always have been, always will be. Someone with Sutcliffe's experience would be playing them like a fiddle all day long. But there'll always be an idiot on the wing looking to slash him. More trouble than it's worth mate, but they have to put him somewhere I suppose."
'HE'S AS DANGEROUS NOW AS HE'S EVER BEEN'
Mark, 49, has 12 months left of his sentence for armed robbery and is waiting for confirmation on a transfer to an open prison where he will serve out the remainder of his time. Having got to know Mark fairly well over the last couple of months, he is a peer mentor and often works in the prison library, I know he has an interest in serial killers.
"I don't care what anyone says," Mark says, "Sutcliffe is as dangerous now as he's ever been." Yes, but presumably the medical assessments at Broadmoor have been pretty rigorous? "All that psychological stuff... educated guesses is all that can ever be. No one can predict what'll happen in a week, a month, a year, with someone like the Ripper. What if he ends up chopping a female screw into tiny little pieces? They'll only have themselves to blame."
How would Mark feel if he found himself being served his dinner by Sutcliffe? "Hopefully I'll never be back in this shithole, but if I was I'd be interested to meet him to be honest. I'd rather have a chat with him than get my head pecked for half an hour by some smackhead after an ounce of burn [tobacco]. The Ripper would be a celebrity in here, closest thing we get to royalty!"
'SHARING A CELL WITH HIM? FUCK. THAT. RIGHT. OFF.'
Nick, 30, is pleading not guilty to a charge of dealing heroin; his co-defendant has already pleaded guilty and Nick is facing pressure from his solicitor to do the same. "No chance, I'll run trial, fuck it."
Nick tells the group that his brother has spent time in a secure unit as a result of violent behaviour in his teens and has been a changed man since his release. "He was in there five years for putting this lad's head through a shop window. Works in Tesco now, has a can and a spliff in the evening and that's it, good as gold." This is great, but surely it's a bit daft to compare his brother with one of the most infamous serial killers of all time? "Alright, yeah, it's not like he was murdering anyone, but he was heading that way, proper nutter for a while. This Sutcliffe's been in there for bare time, if they think he's better, chances are he is."
Presumably Nick would have no problem with sharing a cell with Sutcliffe then? "Fuck. That. Right. Off. No chance."
'HE'S OLD AS FUCK AND ON THAT SKINNY MAN FLEX'
Rickie, 19, has spent most of his teens in youth prisons and is awaiting sentencing for perverting the course of justice in a manslaughter charge brought against a childhood friend. "His dad paid me a grand to lie, gave it to my mum like, easy dollar for sitting in here innit," he says.
After some initial confusion - Rickie had up to this point thought we were talking about the Victorian killer Jack the Ripper - I ask him whether he would have any concerns about doing his time with someone with Sutcliffe's reputation. "Nah. He's old as fuck and on that skinny man flex, what's he going to do?" Everyone laughs: Rickie was apparently ironed out on the exercise yard by a 45-year-old Chinese guy a couple of weeks ago. Unperturbed, Rickie continues. "You've got gangs on the wings, you've got rogue officers, you've got man who thinks you've been writing his bird... this Ripper cunt is just another one on the list, same as anyone."
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