Jack the Ripper: Scotland Yard is fighting to keep 123 year old files secret

Period cartoon showing police finding one of Jack the Ripper's victims

Jack the Ripper is the name given to an unidentified serial killer who murdered female prostitutes in the Whitechapel district in London's East End in 1888. He slit their throats and mutilated their abdomens. He removed internal organs from at least three of his victims. The killer was also known as 'Leather Apron' and 'The Whitechapel Murderer'.

At the time, the Whitechapel district was overpopulated and had increasingly bad housing and working conditions. Crime and poverty were commonplace. Scotland Yard estimated that in October 1888 there were around 1,200 prostitutes working out of 62 brothels in Whitechapel.

The exact number of Jack the Ripper's victims is not known. At the time there was a large number of attacks on women in London's East End, so it's difficult to attribute murders to the same person. Scotland Yard were investigating eleven separate murders which they collectively called the Whitechapel Murders. Five murders which occurred in the second half of 1888 have very similar modus operandi, and are widely believed to have been the work of Jack the Ripper. However opinions vary as to whether two earlier and four later murders were committed by him. There are also several other alleged victims.

The police conducted house to house enquiries in Whitechapel, and collected and examined forensic material. They interviewed over 2,000 people, investigated more than 300 persons, and detained 80. A group of volunteer citizens in London's East End formed the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee, and patrolled the streets looking for suspicious people, petitioned the government to offer a reward for information, and hired private detectives to interview witnesses. Physicians, surgeons, butchers, and slaughterers were suspected because of the nature of the mutilations. However the murders remained unsolved.

Newspaper from September 1888
Newspaper from September 1888 when the killer was still referred to as 'Leather Apron'

Hundreds of letters, some purporting to be from the killer, others trying to help with the investigations were sent to newspapers, the police, and others. The murders were given unprecedented international media coverage. Jack the Ripper became legendary, and speculation as to his real identity continues to this day.


Trevor Marriot, is a modern day Ripper investigator, and a retired murder squad detective. He started investigating the Ripper case in 2003 and subsequently published a book on the subject. In the book he names Carl Feigenbaum a German merchant executed for the murder of a woman in New York as a new suspect (although on the cover he claims Feigenbaum was the killer). During his investigations he found several references to four thick ledgers that Scotland Yard have kept under lock and key since 1888.

In 2008 he applied to see these old case files under the Freedom of Information Act. Scotland Yard denied his request, so he appealed to the Information Commissioner who also refused. After three years trying to get uncensored versions of the case files he took the case to the Information Tribunal where it will be heard by a panel of three judges.

During the three day hearing a Scotland Yard detective inspector was heard as a witness. He gave evidence anonymously from behind a screen. The reason given for not revealing his identity was that he works in a sensitive position, he runs the force's intelligence gathering operation from informants. He said if the names of police informants contained in the files were revealed, it would discourage informants from talking to the police in the future. He said the passage of time didn't make this information less sensitive, and these informer's descendants could be targeted by criminals with a grudge.

Mr Marriot replied that a number of historical files have previously been released which contained details of informants. He said there was no evidence that descendants of informants who had been named came to harm. The tribunal is expected to take a decision later this year.

Among a long list of possible suspects was the name of Queen Victoria's grandson, the Duke of Clarence, who died in an asylum in 1892. Could information relating to him be the real reason for this secrecy?

Source: The Telegraph

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