Page last updated at 14:39 GMT, Monday, 20 March 2006

Hoaxer was heavy drinking loner

John Humble
John Humble was drunk at the time of his arrest

The image of Wearside Jack, the man who taunted detectives during the hunt for the Yorkshire Ripper, was that of a menacing and mysterious figure.

Yet when he was caught, John Humble was unveiled as a loner who spent his days drinking heavily and being insulted and ridiculed by local children.

Even when he was arrested, detectives had to wait almost a day before he was sober enough to be interviewed.

A police source said he had to be told he had been taken to West Yorkshire.

"He had no idea where he was," he said. "And it came as a bit of a shock when he came round."

For more than 25 years, Humble lived with the knowledge that he had sent police on a wild goose chase while the real Yorkshire Ripper, Peter Sutcliffe, continued his killing spree.

No-one can be certain that Sutcliffe would have been caught earlier had the hoax letters and cassette tape not diverted police attention, but another three women were murdered after they were sent to police.

Suicide bid

At one point, Sutcliffe was even arrested and freed because his voice did not match the one on the tape.

Humble's actions also took their toll on the close-knit mining community of Castletown, where voice experts believed the hoaxer originated.

He had no connection with the small pit village, having lived his adult life on the other side of the River Wear, which splits Sunderland in half.

It was in that same river that Humble tried to commit suicide around the time the letters were posted in 1979, but he was pulled from the river and saved by police officers.

Humble, 50, was caught after a cold case review of the Wearside Jack inquiry in September, in which a match was found between a DNA sample taken from the envelope in which a letter was received and a sample from Humble which was retained in the police national database.

The house where Humble was arrested in  Flodden Road
Forensic experts searched Humble's home in Flodden Road, Sunderland

He was arrested at the rented house he shared with his brother Harry and sister Jean, in Flodden Road, Ford Estate, Sunderland.

The house is close to where he was brought up, in Haydon Square on the city's Hylton Lane Estate, and where he lived at the time the hoax letters and tapes were sent to police.

The former labourer was raised by his mother Violet, and after her death he and his brother and sister lived there until the early 1990s, when they moved to another property in the same street.

Neighbours said they were evicted from that address about five years ago and moved to the nearby Ford Estate area, carrying their possessions in wheelie bins.

More recently, Humble worked as a window cleaner in his local area before alcohol took over his life to such a point that even on his arrest he was drunk.

During police interviews, Humble admitted that he was responsible for sending the letters and the tape, but would not accept it amounted to perverting the course of justice, and his legal team pushed for a lesser charge of wasting police time.

Perfect step-father

In Sunderland, neighbours and relatives said Humble's life had been on a downward spiral for years and his best friend was the bottle.

In 1990, aged 36, he married 40-year-old Anne Mason in a secret register office ceremony after a whirlwind romance.

Ms Mason's family were banned from attending, with only Humble's family allowed to be there and act as witnesses.

In the early years of their marriage, Humble was said to be the perfect stepfather to her children Joseph and Colleen.

The couple split up after nine years but have never divorced.

Peter Sutcliffe
Sutcliffe killed three more women after police received the letters

Humble went back to live with his brother Henry in their family's former home, but started drinking heavily after his mother died soon afterwards.

At the time of his arrest, neighbours said he was seen as a harmless loner, who spent his time indoors drinking cheap cider.

One said: "John was fine when he was younger.

"He loved to play darts in the local pub and worked really hard on the buildings. But it all changed once he left Anne."

Neighbour Antoinette Steel, 30, added: "First thing on a morning when the shop opened, (he and his brother) would go down for drink and would be back there at teatime."

Lesley Carr, 35, said: "I felt very sorry for them. They used to get in such a state with the drink.

"They were always getting picked on by kids around here who would even rifle their pockets in the street."

SEE ALSO
Man admits 'Ripper' hoax charges
20 Mar 06 |  West Yorkshire
Hoax tape tricked Ripper police
20 Mar 06 |  England

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