Summer date for hearing that could lead to parole for Ripper

THE Yorkshire Ripper will have his plea not to have to spend the rest of his life behind bars considered by the courts this summer.

Peter Sutcliffe has been fighting for years to have a tariff set for his life sentence and such an order could lead to him being granted parole.

His application will now be heard at the High Court in London on July 16.

The news comes just a few weeks after Justice Secretary Jack Straw told MPs he believed there were "no circumstances" in which Sutcliffe would be released from prison.

Now known as Peter Coonan, the 63-year-old former lorry driver from Bradford was convicted at the Old Bailey in London in 1981 and has been incarcerated ever since.

He received 20 life terms for the murder of 13 women and the attempted murder of seven others in Yorkshire and Greater Manchester.

A judge recommended he serve a minimum of 30 years behind bars. But the Ripper's name was not included in a Home Office list, published in 2006, of 35 murderers serving "whole life" sentences and a formal minimum sentence was never set.

He has been held in Broadmoor top security psychiatric hospital since being transferred from prison in 1984 suffering from paranoid schizophrenia.

Dr Kevin Murray, the psychiatrist who has been in charge of Sutcliffe's care since 2001, said in a 2006 report he considered the killer now posed a "low risk of reoffending". Supported by his colleagues, he argued Sutcliffe should have been allowed to plead guilty to manslaughter at his trial because of his illness.

The court reviewing Sutcliffe's tariff application will have the power to impose a definite number of years which he must serve in prison. It also has the power, however, to rule he must spend his whole life behind bars.

It was on July 5, 1975, 11 months after his marriage, that he took a hammer and made his first attack. Over the next six years he would kill 13 people before finally being arrested in January 1981 in Sheffield.

The court heard Sutcliffe believed he was on a "mission from God" to kill prostitutes but not all of his victims were sex workers. He claimed to have heard voices while working as a grave digger in Bingley, telling him to attack prostitutes.

Dubbed the Yorkshire Ripper because he mutilated the bodies using a hammer, a sharpened screwdriver and a knife, he sparked the biggest manhunt in Yorkshire's history with hundreds of men being questioned. Sutcliffe himself was interviewed by detectives nine times prior to his arrest.

He has spent nearly all of his years in custody at Broadmoor after being diagnosed as mentally ill, but refused treatment until 1993 when the Mental Health Commission ruled it should be given forcibly.

During his time at the hospital he has been attacked several times by other inmates, most recently in 2007. One attack left him blind in his left eye.

In setting his tariff, the High Court is expected to take account of 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 him, his victims or their families.

Whatever the outcome, he will only be freed if the authorities consider he no longer poses a serious danger to the public.

A High Court judge recently refused to allow fresh psychiatric evidence to be admitted as part of the tariff-setting exercise, although he said it could be considered in relation to his conduct post-sentence.

But he suggested Dr Murray's report could be grounds for an investigation by the Criminal Cases Review Commission, which has the authority to refer the case to appeal judges with the power to quash the murder convictions.

Sutcliffe was allowed out of Broadmoor briefly in 2005. Under guard he was allowed to visit the beach where his father's ashes were scattered.

Killers who will die in prison

The Home Office has published a list of 35 people whom it says must serve "whole life tariffs", meaning they will die in prison.

They include:

n David Bieber, who murdered West Yorkshire police officer Ian Broadhurst in 2003 and injured his colleague PC Neil Roper.

n Ian Brady, one of the Moors Murderers, who is in Ashworth Psychiatric Hospital in Merseyside. His accomplice Myra Hindley died in 2002.

n Mark Hobson, a former binman, who murdered four people in North Yorkshire in 2004.

n Donald Neilson, known to many as the Black Panther, who is serving life for a string of murders in the 1970s. He lived in Bradford.