How I got into the mind of the Ripper

In 1984, reporter Barbara Jones knocked on the door of Sonia Sutcliffe's home. Little did she know then, but for nine years her life was to become dominated by the wife of the Yorkshire Ripper and the murderer himself. The results of her obsession can be seen this week with the publication of her book, Voices From An Evil God: the true story of the Yorkshire Ripper and the woman who loves him. It is the first time the words of Peter Sutcliffe, the man who killed 13 women and left seven more for dead, have been heard.

It gives insights into Sutcliffe's psyche, shows what life was like for the Sutcliffes while he was commiting the murders and posits that Sonia knew nothing about them.

So how does Barbara feel about the Sutcliffes? ‘I hope I never see either of them again. Sonia is the most irritating, strangest and coldest person I've ever met. She's so incredibly prickly and demanding. I felt hate for her in court. I was boring a hole in her skull with my eyes. ‘He is, as the psychiatrist Dr Hugo Milne said, a very controlled schizophrenic. In every other way, he is actually rather boring. If he were here now (in Barbara's Wandsworth home) he'd be drinking coffee and making silly schoolboy jokes, calling himself a ‘Yorkie Pud'. He's a Jekyll and Hyde character.'

Barbara sent manuscripts of her book to the Ripper and Sonia. ‘The doctors won't let him read the whole thing because of his unstable mental condition,' she laughs. ‘But he has seen bits and got legal aid to fight it.'

It is no longer meant to be possible for criminals, their families and even associates to benefit financially from newspapers, but there is nothing to stop a journalist contacting a criminal and writing his story. ‘I feel OK about writing a book about the Ripper. Obviously no money ever went to Sutcliffe.'

How much money does Barbara think she'll make? ‘You can't put a sum on it.' But the News of the World paid £80,000 for its serialisation. ‘I'm going to make a donation to the victims' trust.'

Barbara, an erstwhile Campaigning Journalist of the Year, author and former investigative reporter with The Mail on Sunday, is now a freelance writer. Private Eye described her as the seamstress of Fleet Street for her skill at stitching up people.

‘I'd say I was unforgiving rather than tough. I do harbour grudges. In court I was described as hard, but I don't think I'm hard, I'm compassionate.' She actually comes across as worldly and tenacious. She has been married twice to journalists and has two children, aged 28 and 24. ‘I just dragged the kids up myself. Single parenthood is the most ghastly thing.' She is currently in an ‘on, off' relationship with another journalist.

Barbara became involved with Sonia after the publication of Gordon Burn's book on the Ripper, Somebody's Husband, Somebody's Son. ‘I was intrigued. I'd seen human nature in the raw at inquests, murders and with children who had taken overdoses, but the Sutcliffes didn't fall into these cliches. ‘I couldn't understand how Sonia could be defensive about her husband. He is the worst mass murderer in British history, he degraded women, yet she didn't see any reason to move from their house.'

Barbara befriended Sonia professionally, using her to get to Sutcliffe. She had about a month's worth of ‘tortuous meetings with Sonia', including a two-week holiday. Then, unbeknown to the authorities, she spent 20 hours in Broadmoor's central hall with Sutcliffe. She would, at his insistence, take him presents like Nescafe and orange juice.

‘I felt very uncomfortable sitting close to him for two hours at a time. He has mad, staring eyes. I used to feel I was going there for the victims, if that doesn't sound too heroic. I thought if anyone was going to get the truth out of this evil bastard, I was.'

SHE added: ‘I wanted to find him living in ghastly solitary confinement, wasting away, full of remorse and with everybody hating him. I found precisely the opposite. He is smug, really happy about himself and all these women come to visit him. He has all his comforts, adulation and a huge mailbag every day.'

Barbara even went to Mass in the Broadmoor chapel with Sutcliffe. ‘I found it very upsetting watching the Yorkshire Ripper going up and getting Holy Communion. I used to look at the other people in chapel and wonder why God was allowing their disintegration.'

Barbara even took pity on Sutcliffe's friend Ron Saxon, a schizophrenic who'd threatened his wife with a breadknife. ‘Ron became very dependent on me and asked me to marry him. He'd even bought a ring from a catalogue. I said, ‘Look, I'm really touched but I don't want to get involved with any man.'' She even visited his family and promised to go on seeing Ron. Her involvement with the Sutcliffes led to her being dragged into legal wrangles. There was the court case after Private Eye accused Sonia of negotiating deals with national papers. Sonia, who was later found to have lied herself, won record damages. ‘I was,' says Barbara, ‘public enemy number one after the verdict.'

And then came the High Court 13 case in December 1990 in which Barbara represented herself as a litigant. The case involved Sonia suing the News of the World for libel following a report in which it alleged she had an affair in Greece with a lookalike of her husband Peter. Barbara, who had been on the holiday with her, was named by the paper as a third party to the action. Knowing Sonia, she knew exactly which buttons to press to destroy her image as a victim of the Ripper.

‘I stood to lose everything except the clothes I stood up in. There was no question of breaking down at any stage.'

Does she feel tainted with Sutcliffe's evil? ‘I felt the force of evil.' Sutcliffe, says Barbara, has had three stages in his life. First, as Peter Sutcliffe, the nobody from Bingley, West Yorkshire; then, Sutcliffe the murderer. Today, he is Sutcliffe the celebrity patient in Taunton block. Barbara prays this is the final stage: ‘I hope to God he never gets out - I know exactly where he'd come first.'

Voices From An Evil God: the true story of the Yorkshire Ripper and the woman who loves him is published by Blake at £14.99.