Peter Sutcliffe, mad or bad?

Enough has been written in the press about Peter Sutcliffe, the Yorkshire Ripper, to last at least until the next mass murderer appears on the scene. He is now locked away, safely out of sight. But there is one absurdity remaining from the case which has not been generally observed. The jury were instructed to decide whether he was guilty of “murder” or “manslaughter” according to whether he was mad, or just plain “evil”.


You might have expected such distinctions to have ended with the drowning of witches. But the religious mania of the legal establishment is alive and kicking. Sutcliffe himself claimed that he was not mad. Some of the innocent flock around him decided that he was, while others preferred to give him the full epitaph of pure, knowing evil, in this case, however, they were somewhat embarrassed by his insistence that “God” had instructed him to kill prostitutes, and had for years protected him from the police.


Sutcliffe, like most of those questioning him, had a strict religious upbringing. Around the time of the trial, the Pope was shot, and “pardoned” his assassin on the grounds that everything was in God’s hands. When he visits Britain next year, he is going to have marksmen from Scotland Yard’s D11 Unit to guard him. He heads the holy institution which has blessed countless battles and sanctified millions of deaths for the sake of one “national interest” or another. The question will arise, when is a God not a God? When a murderer is not in an army.


When a man viciously kills thirteen people, quibbling about ridiculous labels, such as whether he is “mad” or “bad” adds insult to injury. Disturbed mass murderers are produced by present-day society. If we evade the issue by branding them as “evil” and locking them up, the problem remains, as the next generation of troubled and frustrated people are fostered by a sick society which teaches violence.


Some of the notaries in the courtroom were responsible for many more than thirteen deaths, but because their murders were in defence of British property and privilege, they are virtuous and normal. Over the last decade, the world has spent four million million dollars on arms. That figure, which has twelve noughts, has just been published by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.


Britain alone spends £1.4 million per hour on machines of destruction. The Imperial Cancer Research Fund, investigating the possible use of interferon as a cure for cancer, collected just £1 million throughout 1979, and even that had to come from charity. That is the scale of priorities of the profit system which dominates the world today. This is the society which condemns thirteen horrific murders as “evil”, but continues to sanctify unlimited violence in the defence of trade and commerce.

Clifford Slapper