R v John Samuel Humble: The Yorkshire Ripper Hoaxer Trial


  • Peter French
  • Philip Harrison
  • Jack Windsor Lewis




Yorkshire Ripper Hoaxer trial, voice identification, acoustic investigation


Between October 1975 and November 1980 13 murders were committed by the same man, Peter Sutcliffe, in the northern English towns and cities of Leeds, Bradford, Huddersfield and Manchester. The killings, which became known as the ‘Yorkshire Ripper’ murders, were of women, aged between 16 and 47, most of whom were prostitutes. The astonishingly long time for which the killer remained unidentified and active was undoubtedly at least in part attributable to the activities of a hoaxer. Between March 1978 and June 1979 the hoaxer sent three letters, one to the Daily Mirror newspaper, and two to the senior police officer investigating the case, to whom he also sent a tape recorded message. The originator of the letters and recording claimed to be the Yorkshire Ripper and boasted about continuing to out-fox the police. The envelopes containing the letters bore the postmark of the coastal town of Sunderland, some 120 kilometres to the north-east of the main locus of the murders. The accent of the speaker in the recorded message was also one associated with the north-east of England (one from a range of varieties popularly referred to as ‘Geordie’). The police misjudged the contents of the communications, taking the view that they contained details of the murders that were not known to the general public. They concluded that the sender was the murderer, and therefore that the murderer came from Sunderland. The two linguists most closely associated with the police investigation, Stanley Ellis and Jack Windsor Lewis, then working at the University of Leeds, saw differently. They strongly believed the letters and recording to be a hoax. They felt compelled to put their view to the officer in charge of the enquiry team. They were ignored. The investigation thus became centred on Sunderland, allowing Sutcliffe, born, bred and still living in West Yorkshire, to continue to murder.

Author Biographies

Peter French

Peter French is a forensic consultant, Director of J.P.French Associates and Honorary Visiting Professor in the Department of Language and Linguistic Science at the University of York. Over the past 20 years had has worked on thousands of investigations and legal cases from countries across the world and has published extensively in specialist journals. He is President of the International Association for Forensic Phonetics and Acoustics. Peter French J.P. French Associates Forensic Speech and Acoustics Laboratory 86 The Mount York YO24 1AR UK

Philip Harrison

Philip Harrison is a forensic consultant and Director of J.P. French Associates and has worked on over 1000 cases in the areas of speaker identification, disputed utterance analysis, transcription, authentication and enhancement as well as many miscellaneous cases. He has an undergraduate degree in Acoustic Engineering from the Institute of Sound and Vibration Research (ISVR) at the University of Southampton and a postgraduate degree in Phonetics and Phonology at the University of York. He is currently conducting doctoral research on the measurement and analysis of formants, and frequently lectures on forensic speech science to universities and other organizations in the UK and abroad.

Jack Windsor Lewis

Jack Windsor Lewis has lectured and directed courses on phonetics widely around Europe and various other parts of the world. He has been on the staff of universities in Tehran, Oslo, Brussels, and for 19 years at Leeds, near which city he now lives. Since retirement from full-time teaching he has had part-time engagements at the University of York St. John, Manchester Metropolitan University and University College London. His work as an editor and author of over 100 publications has included articles, textbooks and dictionaries. His work in the field of forensic linguistics was mainly pursued between 1976 and 1996.



How to Cite

French, P., Harrison, P., & Lewis, J. W. (2006). R v John Samuel Humble: The Yorkshire Ripper Hoaxer Trial. International Journal of Speech, Language and the Law, 13(2), 255–273. https://doi.org/10.1558/ijsll.2006.13.2.255



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