Women in Yorkshire describe living in "culture of fear" from Peter Sutcliffe's murders

Peter Sutcliffe did not just rob women of their lives, he also robbed thousands of women of their right to feel safe going about their daily lives during the 1970s.

A protest held by women outside the Old Bailey during the trial of Peter Sutcliffe in 1981. Picture: Getty

Following the news of his death on Friday, scores of women gave their accounts of the culture of fear instilled into thousands during the five years in which 13 people were killed and seven others viciously attacked.

West Yorkshire Mayor candidate and Batley & Spen MP Tracy Brabin was interviewed by police following the murder of Yvonne Pearson in Bradford.

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Ms Brabin, 58, had been on a night out with friends the night Ms Pearson was killed, with her body discovered two months later.

"It certainly brought it home thinking that I could have been around the corner at the time," she said.

"It was a cloud that hung over our joy of being young women that we felt we had to always be conscious and we were in charge of our own safety when, actually, you can take all the safety measures you like and still end up dead."

While a student in Loughborough, Ms Brabin was attacked by a man who tried to rape her, and slept with a knife for years afterwards.

"As a victim of violence myself, I was absolutely terrified of walking the streets. It was a stranger who attacked me, which is actually quite rare, but I was battered and sexually assaulted. Luckily, a neighbour disturbed him and I managed to get his number plate."

The women killed by Peter Sutcliffe

The man who attacked Ms Brabin was found and jailed for his crime.

Elisabeth Baker, who was working in Leeds as 26-year-old barrister at the time of Sutcliffe's first murder, said women everywhere felt terrified of going about their daily business.

She said she breathed a sigh of relief at hearing the news police had made an arrest in January 1981.

"I can recall the wave of relief which came over me, along with the thought that male colleagues would no longer have to escort me to my car if it was dark."

Tracy Brabin says Sutcliffe's crimes "hung over women like a cloud"

She added: "I just remember hearing it on the radio. As a lawyer, I'm of the mind that everyone is innocent until proven guilty, but I know at the time I just thought, 'they've got him'."

Sarah Taylor Phillips, who grew up in Halifax, said: "He killed Josephine Whitaker on our school playing fields in 1979. As school children we did live in fear and you were suspicious of everyone. The search went on for so long."

The terror that swept through Yorkshire in response to Sutcliffe's murders, however, was reinforced by calls from police for women to stay indoors where possible and not go out at night unchaperoned.

Such requests prompted anger from many women, leading to one protest along North Street in Leeds city centre by women demanding their right to feel safe.

Members of the public waiting outside court following the arrest of Peter Sutcliffe

The demonstration was the first of many which have been staged across the country in the years since and are known as 'Reclaim the Night' protests.

Feminist writer Julie Bindel was one of many who took part in the walks, after she moved to Leeds in 1979 aged 17 for a relationship she was in at the time.

"I was well aware that this stranger was attacking women," she said.

"To us, he was a monstrous bogeyman that was held as the most evil man who existed.

"Sutcliffe didn't rob women of their freedom – I won't give him that accolade – but he destroyed many lives, including his victims' and their families'.

"The police, media and men around us at the time were quick to curtail our freedom. I think he gave some men and some institutions like the police and media permission to turn the screw."

Police at the scene of the murder of WIlma McCann in Chapeltown, Leeds, 1975. Picture: SWNS/Ross Parry

In a statement issued on Friday, West Yorkshire Police Chief Constable John Robins QPM formally apologised for the language used by the force to describe some of the victims at the time.

Mr Robins said some of the "language and terminology" used by senior officers at the time was no longer in-fitting with the force's approach to victim-based crimes, and acknowledged the impact it would have had on families of the women killed.

"Those years were full of fear," Tracy Brabin added.

"But this is a time to not to focus on the perpetrator – it's to think about his victims and their families and remind ourselves that those women deserve better than for his face to be all over the television and his story told."