Page last updated at 13:48 GMT, Monday, 1 March 2010

Yorkshire Ripper seeks ruling on minimum sentence

Peter Sutcliffe
Sutcliffe murdered 13 women during a killing spree in northern England

Yorkshire Ripper Peter Sutcliffe is seeking a High Court ruling on how much longer he must serve in jail, it can be revealed.

A judge said there was no reason why it should not be reported that 63-year-old Sutcliffe is asking the High Court to grant him a finite minimum sentence.

Restrictions banning identification in the case were imposed in November 2008.

He was given 20 life terms in 1981 for murdering 13 women and attacking seven others in Yorkshire and Lancashire.

The trial judge at the Old Bailey, Mr Justice Boreham, recommended that he serve a minimum of 30 years behind bars, a period that will expire next year.

Anonymity lifted

However, Sutcliffe, whose name was not on a Home Office list of 35 murderers serving "whole life" sentences published in 2006, was given no formal minimum sentence, or "tariff".

Now known as Peter Coonan, he is currently being held in Broadmoor top security psychiatric hospital after being transferred from prison in 1984 after being diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia.

Richard McCann's mother was one of Peter Sutcliffe's victims

Mr Justice Mitting is holding a directions hearing in London to decide what form the tariff-setting hearing should take, and what evidence should be admitted.

At the outset the judge took away Sutcliffe's anonymity, saying: "It is now common ground this is part of the criminal process and must, therefore, proceed in the defendant's own name.

"The press are at liberty to report the fact that these proceedings concern Peter Sutcliffe/Peter Coonan."

'Exceptional' progress

Paul Bowen, appearing for Sutcliffe, indicated there had been an application to continue keeping his identity secret, but said: "We are no longer pursuing that application."

The judge who reviews Sutcliffe's tariff later this year will take into account the gravity of his crimes, whether or not he has made "exceptional" progress in custody, the state of his mental health and any representations from Sutcliffe, his victims or their families.

The judge will have power to impose a definite number of years that Sutcliffe must serve before he can seek his freedom, but could also rule that he must spend his whole life behind bars.

Richard McCann, the son of Sutcliffe's victim, Wilma McCann, said: "I do not believe that he will ever be released, or that he should be either. It will be a brave home secretary who allows him to be released."

Sutcliffe's life sentence means that, whatever the outcome of the tariff decision, he will only be freed when, and if, the authorities consider that he no longer poses a serious danger to the public.

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