One of the U.K.’s most notorious serial killers could be returned to prison following more than 30 years in a psychiatric ward. Known as the Yorkshire Ripper, Peter Sutcliffe murdered 13 women between 1975 and 1980, before being convicted the following year and sentenced to multiple life terms. However, three years after arriving at a prison on the Isle of Wight, he was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and transferred to Broadmoor High Security Psychiatric Hospital, where he has remained ever since. Now, medical experts have deemed that his condition is sufficiently under control for him to be placed behind bars once more.
Schizophrenia is a challenging condition to diagnose, with no standard definition or consensus as to whether or not it should be considered a disorder in its own right or an amalgamation of overlapping conditions. Symptoms associated with schizophrenia include delusion and hallucinations, often in the form of voices that instruct or torment the sufferer. Paranoid schizophrenia is one of a number of variations, and typically involves delusions of persecution, whereby a person feels as though others are conspiring against them.
The cause of the condition is also somewhat uncertain, with a range of different factors likely playing a part. Studies have shown that schizophrenic symptoms can develop as a result of traumatic experiences or excessive drug abuse, although the fact that it sometimes runs in families indicates that there may also be a genetic link. It has been suggested that symptoms are caused by imbalances in the concentrations of certain neurotransmitters, particularly dopamine, although more research is needed in order to determine the pathways by which this produces an effect.
Sutcliffe – who also attempted to murder a further seven women – has been receiving treatment for his condition at Broadmoor for over three decades. Typically, this involves a combination of psychotherapy, such as cognitive behaviour therapy, and antipsychotic medications. However, speaking to the BBC, forensic psychiatrist David Ho, who previously worked at Broadmoor, explained that these treatments are unlikely to ever fully cure paranoid schizophrenia, but merely enable sufferers to manage their symptoms. Regarding Sutcliffe, he said “I don’t think it’s the case that his mental disorder has been completely cured, but I think it perhaps has reached a stage where its symptoms are under control.”
While psychiatric staff at Broadmoor have therefore recommended that the Yorkshire Ripper be returned to prison, the final decision can only be made by justice minister Michael Gove.