The police report which might shed light on the unsolved murders carried out by ‘Jack the Stripper’ in London in the 1960s is currently locked away in the National Archives, marked not to be opened until 2050.
If you were wondering why this is necessary nearly 50 years after the killings, then a recent Freedom of Information request reveals the reasons for the decision:
- Releasing the document might impair a future ‘cold case investigation’ into the murders.
- It could cause distress to families of the victims
- It might cause damage or distress to a ‘third party’
Another interesting point is the policy that details of any investigation into an unsolved crime should remain confidential until the ‘hypothetical suspect’ reaches the age of 85 (assuming he or she is at least 16 at the time of the offence). This explains why the date of 2050 is chosen in the Jack the Stripper case, as the report is dated September 1965.
The full response is:
Disclosure of the information contained within this record would demonstrate how the police go about investigating serious crime, in this instance a series of murders of prostitutes in West London during the mid 1960s.
The police service is accountable to the public it serves and it is in the common interest that information that demonstrates how it performs across the range of its duties is made available. However, this comes with the following caveats; such disclosures of information must not impede the police from discharging their lawful duties to detect and prevent crime, and identify, apprehend and bring offenders to justice; nor should disclosure infringe the rights of individuals.
Disclosure of information, especially that relating to issues of public safety, could act to reassure the public and engender a sense confidence in the police, which would be in the public interest. However, this record contains information relating to the investigation of a series of murders that remain unsolved. This record also contains information, which, if put into the public domain, could cause substantial distress to the immediate, surviving families of the victims.
The information contained in this record is directly relevant to the investigation of a series of murders as yet unsolved. As such the Metropolitan Police Service would desire that the details of the investigation remain confidential until any hypothetical suspect reaches the age of 85 years, after which point, in common with CPS policy, a prosecution is unlikely to be pursued. This closure period would be based on an assumption that the suspect(s) would have been at least 16 years old at the material time. The rationale for this is that there remains a possibility that these murders could still be investigated and that a suspect could be identified, charged, brought to trial and convicted.
It is not possible to identify particular information that might be released into the public domain without the risk of compromising any future police actions; information that appears innocuous may have significance to an experienced investigator that is not immediately obvious to the lay reader; or may assume a new significance in the light of newly discovered evidence or developments in forensic or investigative techniques. The evolution of new scientific techniques, especially the technology of DNA, means that cases hitherto considered unsolvable, are being examined afresh. Increasingly police services throughout the country are setting up ‘cold case’ teams to review their case files on unsolved murders; in some instances these unsolved murders date back to the 1940s.
The premature release of this record into the public domain might, therefore, be detrimental to any future investigation and subsequent prosecution. Such an outcome would not be in the public interest.
This record comprises of a report that links together a series of prostitute murders in West London in 1960s. The report contains information a graphic and disturbing nature the disclosure of which is likely to cause substantial distress to the victims’ surviving, immediate families to the point where their welfare could be significantly harmed. Such an outcome would not be in the public interest.
A section 40 (2) exemption also applies to some of the information contained in this document. Section 40 (2) exempts personal information about a ‘third party’ (someone other than the requester), if revealing it would breach the terms of the Data Protection Act (DPA) 1998. The DPA prevents personal information from release if it would be unfair or at odds with the reason why it was collected, or where the subject had officially served notice that releasing it would cause them damage or distress.
In this document the exemption applies because it contains discussion of personal information relating to the deceased’s family and aspects of their own private lives. The individuals concerned would have no reasonable expectation that this information would be released into the public domain during their lifetimes, and to do so could cause them a considerable level of distress.