Ronald Gregory

controversial Chief Constable Ronald Gregory, who led West Yorkshire Police during the six years that the Yorkshire Ripper murdered 13 women, has died at the age of 88.

His 14-year reign as head of the force was forever marred by the period during which Bradford lorry driver Peter Sutcliffe eluded arrest,

despite the killer being interviewed nine times between his first murder in 1975 and being caught, almost by accident, by South Yorkshire Police in 1981.

The investigation and intense public scrutiny of it cast a long shadow over Mr Gregory's career and overshadowed his modernising of the force and his radical approach to some aspects of policing.

Mr Gregory was born in Preston and followed his father, grandfather and great-grandfather into the police.

His brother was also at one time Assistant Chief Constable of Thames Valley Police.

Mr Gregory started as a police cadet in Preston in 1941, but after a year he volunteered for the RAF and later joined the Fleet Air Arm, seeing active service in the Far East.

He returned to Preston in 1946 and for four years he was in charge of CID.

In 1962 he went to Blackpool as Deputy Chief Constable and three years later was appointed Chief Constable of Plymouth. In 1967 he moved to the Devon and Cornwall Constabulary.

He was appointed Chief Constable in West Yorkshire in 1969, overseeing the merger of the Leeds and Bradford city forces with the old county force in 1974 to form the present establishment.

Mr Gregory was often ahead of his time leading a number of policing innovations, including introduction of the first Stolen Vehicle Squad in 1974, the use of Vascar speed detection in patrol cars and creation of a motorway patrol unit in 1982.

He modernised the force, he was not afraid to speak out when he thought officers should be better paid and took the radical step of arming large numbers of officers, anticipating the surge in armed violence in the 1970s.

It was his belief that the police should have firearms readily available for the protection of the public and themselves. Later he asked for shields and other protective equipment to use against the violence that was then a serious problem among both soccer and rugby league fans.

Mr Gregory also took an early stand against the dangers of parking outside schools when children were leaving at the end of the day. He wrote to parents in1973 warning them of the hazards of parking near school gates when collecting their children, highlighting a 21 per cent increase in accidents involving children in a decade.

In 1975 he also forecast that it was not impossible for a woman to be an assistant chief constable within the following decade, saying there was no reason why they should not compete for the most senior positions.

But his career will always be linked to the flawed hunt for the Yorkshire Ripper and he attracted national condemnation after selling his memoirs to a national newspaper for a reputed 40,000 following his retirement in 1983.

He did it he said because the investigators had endured nothing but condemnation made with the benefit of hindsight, and he wanted to refute that criticism.

Relatives of Ripper victims accused him of taking "blood money", while then Home Secretary Leon Brittan branded it "deplorable".

An official report in 1982 by one of Her Majesty's Inspectors of Constabulary, Lawrence Byford, said police failed to connect vital clues which could have led to Sutcliffe being arrested nearly four years earlier, preventing the deaths of his subsequent victims.

It also said the major incident room failed to cope with the weight of information it received, excessive credence was given to the notorious hoax tape of "Wearside Jack" claiming to be responsible for the murders, and Mr Gregory was blamed for taking the decision to release it. The culprit, from Sunderland, was eventually jailed in 2006.

Following Sutcliffe's eventual arrest in Sheffield for a vehicle offence, Mr Gregory was among the beaming officers who appeared at the so-called "laughing policeman" Press conference, prompting claims the subsequent coverage could jeopardise Sutcliffe's trial at which he was eventually convicted and jailed for life.

But one good thing to come out of the inquiry was the development of the Holmes computer system giving immediate access to various databases to save time and reduce the risk of human error.

In his final annual report shortly before his retirement Mr Gregory said: "The Ripper is a thorn in my career. I wish we could have caught him earlier. But I know the men on the case could not have worked any harder."

Away from his life as a policeman Mr Gregory was a keen skiier and golfer, being a member of Woodthorpe Golf Club.

In 1971 he was awarded the Queens Police Medal, but it was always believed that the controversy over the handling of the Ripper investigation cost him a knighthood when he eventually retired.

His funeral will be held at Kettlethorpe Crematorium, Wakefield on Tuesday.