Posted by: benk1988 | December 29, 2009

Veteran Journalist Shines New Light on Ripper

Over the years newspapers have been responsible for many so called moral panics; it has brought down politicians and caused nations to go to war. However in a recent investigation by veteran journalist Kelvin Mackenzie it has come to light that one of the most notorious headlines and titles in criminal history is in fact a media fabrication. The legendary Jack the Ripper.

During a recent programme broadcast on Sky the former Sun editor examined the media’s role in the police investigation to catch the perpetrator of the most horrific and brutal murders in British history. However their ‘help’ was not always in the interests of the public. The emergence of a new paper desperate for sales meant that a massive story was needed. In late 19th Century London literacy was rocketing and a new paper searching out its niche The Star. It was clear an entirely new consumer market was opening up, and The Star wanted to print stories that involved them, the lower classes.

So the story goes that when an alcoholic prostitute was murdered in the East-End that the Star suddenly saw an opportunity. This sort of murder was not rare and often went completely unreported in the more prestigious Times but this was exactly the sort of stuff that Star editor Thomas P O’Connor wanted. The story ran and ran and at first sales rocketed however after a while these began to lessen and O’Connor was concerned that this ‘new journalism’ was going to fail before it had really begun. So he started to bend the truth, linking the murder of Mary Ann Nichols with two other utterly unrelated and entirely different murders. So different that we do not even remember the names of the women that were involved.

However the Star did not have to wait long for another grisly murder and Mackenzie actually postulates that the press coverage that the Ripper received was causing him to pursue other victims. With the circulation on the rise again the paper and others like it were keen to keep the Ripper in the headlines and began to spread unfounded rumours regarding the identity of the killer, including headlines damning, Jews, doctors and the aristocracy. This was fantastic journalism, targeting the class enemies of the lower class and meant that sales stayed high. O’Connor did not seem to care whether what he was reporting was true or not as long as circulation stayed high.

Through some clever investigative work by Mackenzie he uncovered the ‘Dear Boss’ letter. This macabre missive taunted the police and gave some bloody and gruesome insights into the killings. Delivered to the Central News Agency, an organisation that circulated news around the world, it was signed for the first time ‘Jack the Ripper’. This was a very curious document. Written very neatly and with care and attention it did not strike as the work of a deranged mass murder and automatically raised suspicion with Mackenzie. He was suspicious firstly due to the fact that not many people new of the existence of the Central News Agency except for journalists, secondly the curious writing style and thirdly the fact that this letter had arrived a month after the second murder when it appeared the Ripper may well be done. Having examined the records of The Star a letter emerged from the owner to the editor at the time claiming that the efforts of a ‘Mr Best’ to mislead the paper should have resulted in the termination of his employment earlier. Having consulted hand writing experts it became clear that Mr Best who was working for the Star at the time had written the ‘Dear Boss’ letter and thus given birth to the name ‘Jack the Ripper.’

Two more murders were committed before the letter was reported so it can not be argued that Best caused the Ripper to strike again however it now means that the identity of the killer is even more unclear as one piece of key evidence is essentially a forgery.

A statue of Star editor O’Connell looks proudly over Fleet Street in London, over the spiritual home of British journalism. Although he was very liberal with the truth his paper gave birth to what we see now as modern tabloid journalism and brought the news, admittedly somewhat misleadingly, to the mass populous. Could it be argued that their coverage caused the Ripper to kill again and in even more brutal ways? Yes it could, however this could be said of all subsequent mass murders and rapists. We can not live in a society where the media are prevented from reporting crime as that would surely be the bigger injustice and failure of the people. One thing is certain that The Star’s reporting of the murders has gone down in infamy, not for the clever journalism or the insightful investigating but due to a forgery from one journalist writing a disturbing letter. This letter gave us a name to put to the murderer whose identity we may never know. Since then many other serial killers have been assigned the nickname, the Yorkshire Ripper, the Camden Ripper and most recently a series of killings with worryingly similar methods in around Norwich carried out by the Norfolk Ripper.

With another piece of evidence discredited will we ever know who was Jack the Ripper?

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Responses

  1. Good blogging on a diverse range of topics including WINOL and the media law, with some comments on law reform and some cases. I though the piece on Somalia was problematic but we discussed that and you acted on that, so that is good. The reprinting of the cartoons I think was probably gratutitous, since it was not in the news at the time and seemed to be reproduced apropos nothing than a generalised objection to censorious people in general and terrorists in general. That’s more of a fine line and probably some a developing sense of judgement rather than a fully mature one. Weighed against this is the element of bravery and ‘attack’ in producing the cartoons which I think is very much to your credit and to be frank way ahead of many other students. We thrashed through that as well. So overall a good performance with some defects but with great improfement and much learning all round.


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