Trainee police officer Bob Hydes sat in the classroom with other probationers, eager to finish the course and get out to do the job.
It was May 1980. As the lecture drew to a close, the inspector at the front of the room turned suddenly sombre. ‘The biggest manhunt we have in our country now is for the Yorkshire Ripper,’ he said, gazing intently at the rookie officers. ‘It may even be one of you in here that finally gets him.’
Just seven months later, PC 358 Bob Hydes was that man. On Friday January 2, 1981, he arrested the UK’s most wanted criminal, Peter Sutcliffe who, over six years of brutal violence between 1975 and 1981, murdered 13 women and attacked seven more.
Indeed, his last ‘victim’ was probably minutes from her death when Hydes, then 31, and veteran Sgt Bob Ring, 47, spotted Sutcliffe’s car parked in Sheffield’s red light area.
The duo’s actions that night eventually led to his conviction and jailing for life, and to the end of an episode that traumatised women in the north of England and scarred the national psyche for decades.
Hero: Rookie PC Bob Hydes (pictured) arrested the UK’s most wanted criminal, Peter Sutcliffe
The car Sutcliffe was driving the night he was finally apprehended by police in 1981
Today, Bob Hydes gives his first — and he says last — newspaper interview since the serial killer’s arrest more than 42 years ago.
In an hour-by-hour account of that chaotic night, and with all the precision of an ex-copper, he recalls Sutcliffe’s calm demeanour while brazenly lying to him, and how he gradually came to realise he and Sgt Ring had — unwittingly — caught the most feared and reviled man in the land.
But he is brutally candid, too, about colleagues’ mistakes and reveals in more detail than ever before the clash between police at the heart of the manhunt that almost let the Ripper escape into the night to kill again.
Grey-haired, circumspect, modest, the now retired officer, 74, was a late entry to the police, having spent his 20s working in engineering in his home city of Sheffield.
He decided to join after a friend did. ‘I thought if he’s clever enough to join then I am,’ he laughs.
Married to Kath for 52 years, the dad-of-two and grandad of one today enjoys golf and a quiet drink at his local pub.
‘My friends know I rarely talk about the Ripper, but I feel it’s the right time now to tell my account of the night we got him. Over the years I’ve read so many stories that have been inaccurate. Now I want to put the record straight,’ he says.
It was an icy, snowy evening on January 2, 1981. After a briefing at the start of the 10 pm shift, Sgt Ring approached new officer Hydes and in his broad Yorkshire accent, declared: ‘Tha’s a car driver, I’ll come out with thee.’
They drove around the area for half an hour when Ring said: ‘Has tha done a prostitute file?’ meaning have you ever arrested a sex worker. Hydes said he hadn’t. ‘I’ll show you where they go,’ replied Ring as he directed him to Sheffield’s then red light district.
At 10.50pm, they drove along Melbourne Avenue, filled with large Victorian properties, many now offices.
Rescued: Olivia Reivers escaped from Sutcliffe when she and the killer were arrested on suspicion of theft
Evil: Peter Sutcliffe, otherwise known as the Yorkshire Ripper who was at large in the 1970s
Serial killer the Yorkshire Ripper’s victims (left to right): Wilma McCann, Joan HArrison, Emily Jackson, Irene Richardson, Patricia Atkinson, Jayne McDonald, Maureen Long, Jean Royle-Jordan, Yvonne Pearson, Helen Rykta, Vera Millward, Josephine Whittaker and Barbara Leach
‘Look there’s one — drive up to it.’ Ring pointed to a brown Rover saloon parked in an unlit driveway next to business premises, which Hydes now blocked in. His headlights showed a man in the driver’s seat and a woman in the passenger seat: Peter Sutcliffe and local sex worker Olivia Reivers. ‘We walked to the car and Ring asked Sutcliffe what he was doing there,’ recalls Hydes. ‘Just talking,’ the killer calmly replied.
‘Who is she?’ Ring asked, nodding towards Olivia. ‘My girlfriend,’ said Sutcliffe.
‘What’s her name?’ quizzed the sergeant. ‘I don’t know. We haven’t known each other all that long,’ said Sutcliffe.
Ring retorted: ‘Who do you think we are — just fallen off a Christmas tree?’
Sutcliffe held his nerve, perhaps even enjoying the exchange. ‘I’m not suggesting you have,’ he said.
Hydes asked him his name and address, to which Sutcliffe replied: ‘John Williams, 65 Dorchester Road, Canklow, Rotherham.’
Ring returned to their car and radioed the Rover’s registration into the control room. It was a false plate, belonging to a Skoda.
Sutcliffe and Olivia were now put under arrest on suspicion of theft.
For the first but not the last time that night, the Ripper now very nearly got away. As Hydes took Olivia, 24, to the police car, he heard Ring ask Sutcliffe what he was doing. ‘I need a pee,’ said the killer. Ring ordered him to do it by the office wall.
The darkness meant Ring could not see Sutcliffe deposit his ball pein hammer and a kitchen knife into a mound of grass and leaves.
It was ‘a lapse of concentration’ says Hydes now — but for whatever reason, Sutcliffe did not take the opportunity to slip away as he might easily have done.
Perhaps he got cocky, believing the police would once more fail to grasp who he really was. It had already happened — Sutcliffe was interviewed nine times between November 1977 and February 1980, and his Sunbeam Rapier car had been seen a shocking 39 times in red light areas in the North.
What saved him from greater scrutiny was his accent. In June 1979, an alcoholic from Sunderland called John Humble had sent a now infamous cassette tape to the investigation’s leading officer, Assistant Chief Constable George Oldfield, claiming responsibility for the Ripper murders. The haunting voice recording was played repeatedly on television and radios across Britain.
Oldfield was convinced it had been sent by the real killer. From then on, only men with Geordie or Wearside accents were considered serious suspects. Sutcliffe had neither and the Wearside tape proved to be one of the most costly — and, for women who might otherwise have escaped the Ripper, tragic — red herrings in criminal history.
‘Both suspects were now put in the back of the car and neither said a word as we drove them to Hammerton Road Police Station,’ says Hydes.
Parking at 11.25pm, he took Olivia — whose life in effect he had saved — to the station’s custody sergeant, Sgt Bough. As Ring brought Sutcliffe in, the Ripper said he again needed to use the toilet and disappeared, unescorted and out of police sight — the second major error of the night. Returning from the station toilets, Sutcliffe now gave his real name and address, and Sgt Bough ordered him to empty his pockets.
‘I watched as he pulled out a coiled piece of cord, about two foot long,’ says Hydes. ‘In the middle of it, we later saw, were two knots tied about an inch apart.
‘The custody sergeant later said one of the Ripper victims had been murdered with a cord that had knots in it. I assume it was part of his strangulation kit.’
It was 11.40pm and the cells were full, so Sutcliffe was taken to an office for plain-clothes detectives.
Hydes sat next to him, and Duty Sgt Arthur Armitage, a blunt-speaking officer, came in as he finished his shift. On the wall was a 2 ft high photo-fit of the Ripper.
‘[Armitage] looked at my suspect, then back at the poster. He turned to Sutcliffe and declared: “You’re the Yorkshire Ripper, you are.”
‘Sutcliffe stared at Arthur but never flinched or said a word, staying as cool as a cucumber.
‘I looked at the poster and my heart started pounding. I totted up the clues — the prostitute, false car plates, the cord, false name and address and, of course, his likeness to the photo-fit.
‘I was told to ring the Ripper incident room, which was in Leeds, to tell them to come and get this guy, who was a strong contender for the killer.’ Yet now, absurdly, Hydes encountered resistance from his own colleagues.
‘An officer in Leeds picked up the phone and his first question was, “Has he got a Geordie accent?”
‘ “No, he hasn’t,’ I said. “Well we’re not bothered then and won’t come for him,’ he replied before hanging up.” In Sheffield there was frustration, and Hydes was told by a senior officer to call again.
The same Leeds officer took his second call, and this time said Sutcliffe came up twice in their records — in fact, he featured far more often than this — but still there was no offer to come and collect him for further questioning.
Convinced Sutcliffe was a major suspect and with rising anger at the officer’s refusal to take him seriously, Hydes made a third and fourth call, still to no avail. Bosses at Sheffield decided to get a more senior detective to pressure West Yorkshire to get him.
Meanwhile, at 2am, Hydes went back to Sutcliffe, who was still calmly sitting in the office. ‘I need to verify who you are. Is there anyone at your home address who will do that?’ he asked.
‘My wife Sonia,’ said Sutcliffe, and gave Hydes his home phone number. Now he watched calmly as the PC made the call . . . knowing that the number he had given was false. Indeed, Sutcliffe was sitting so close to Hydes, he could surely hear the phone answered by an Asian man, angry at being woken.
‘I thought he was devious. I think he was possibly frightened at how deep we were looking into him.
‘He was a consummate liar, trying to get away from us to get his hammer and knife and get back to Bradford. I said to him: “You gave me a wrong number. What’s your real one?” He refused to give it to me. “I don’t want Sonia to know,” he muttered.’ Through the small hours, Hydes chatted to Sutcliffe, the 31-year-old trainee copper doing his best to draw hints of guilt from a man so evil he had, by then, murdered 13 women.
‘I asked him if he had been in trouble with the police before. He moaned that he had been caught for speeding and drink driving.
English serial killer Peter Sutcliffe who was dubbed the ‘Yorkshire Ripper’
Sutcliffe is taken to Frimley Park Hospital from Broadmoor Hospital for eye blindness treatment, in Frimley, Surrey on September 26, 2015
‘This was a man who knew how many women he had attacked yet all he was bothered about was being caught doing 50 mph in a 30 zone.’
Sutcliffe was eventually placed in a cell and Olivia was let go. Hydes wrote up his notes and, at last, West Yorkshire sent police to collect Sutcliffe and take him to Dewsbury station, so Ripper squad officers could question him.
Hydes finished work at 7am and went home to his family, but there was no sense of victory. Quite the opposite. ‘I was so frustrated by what had happened that night, with the delays from West Yorkshire. We knew he was a strong suspect and we also knew there was a risk he’d be set free,’ he recalls.
The next night, Saturday January 3, Hydes began his shift again at 10 pm, and was put on foot patrol. Not long after, however, he was told the inspector heading up the shift wanted him and Sgt Ring back at the scene of Sutcliffe’s arrest.
They searched the corner where Sutcliffe had disappeared apparently to relieve himself: a small brick walled square, three foot by two foot, filled with garden waste.
‘I looked down and saw a hammer laid on top,’ says Hydes. ‘ “Who does tha think it belongs to — the handyman [who works at the business premises next door]?” Ring asked me. I shone my torch down closer and saw a silver blade glint. “Well, the hammer might,” I said, “but who does the knife belong to that’s under it?”
‘That was when we realised we’d found Sutcliffe’s killing kit. It was a spine-tingling moment. I knew we had got our man.’
Scenes-of-crime officers were called to the area, and Hydes was told to guard it. ‘We didn’t know at that point whether Sutcliffe was still in custody or not.
‘I was worried he might come back to get his equipment.’
But now the murderer’s identity was surely beyond question.
Sutcliffe was still at Dewsbury Police — and he knew the game was up.
On Sunday January 4, he admitted he was the Yorkshire Ripper.
For Bob Hydes, that Sunday was the strangest of his career. ‘Ring and I had been told not to tell anyone what had gone on in the night, not even our family,’ he says.
Too excited to sleep after his shift, he joined friends for their regular Sunday lunchtime drink. ‘People noticed I was quiet but I said nothing. I honestly told no one, not even Kath.’ Finally going to bed at 3.30pm, he rose at 9pm to see George Oldfield, West Yorkshire Chief Constable Ronald Gregory and other senior Ripper detectives on TV, ‘all smiles’, saying the hunt for the killer was over.
‘They looked so pleased with themselves, I thought,’ says Hydes now, despite the fact their own officer had spent hours pouring cold water on his suspicions.
At least Hydes’ work was recognised within his own force: ‘I was called by South Yorkshire’s chief constable congratulating me on a job well done.’ And it was only then that the enormity of the arrest hit home.
‘I thought thank God for all the women in the North that he had finally been caught. I saw and heard the relief of the women in my own family, and over the next few weeks, when I was back on patrol, women would come up to me in the street and fling their arms around me, thanking me for arresting him. Some had tears in their eyes as they spoke to me and shook my hand.’
There was one final discovery.
A week after his arrest, police thought to search the toilets Sutcliffe used at Hammerton Road station in Sheffield. A Stanley knife was found hidden in a cistern. The killing kit was complete.
After his trial at the Old Bailey in May 1981, Sutcliffe was jailed for life for the murders of 13 women and attacks on seven more.
Hydes moved to CID until 1999 and was then was promoted to uniform sergeant, retiring in January 2009 just days before his 60th birthday. Sutcliffe died in 2020, aged 74, in jail.
Does Hydes now think Sutcliffe was mad or simply evil? ‘Sutcliffe knew what he was doing. He lied repeatedly, and to the very final minutes of his being a free man. He was wicked and calculating.
‘I rarely talk publicly about it as I don’t want to upset the victims’ families, but this is my record of those historic few days.
‘As for me, I was simply doing the job I was required to do.’