Photography by Brian Moody
In 1975, one week before his sixth birthday, Richard McCann’s mother became the first victim of the Yorkshire Ripper. As a result his life went into a downward spiral and it wasn’t until many years later he was able to use his experience to create positive change. In 2005 Richard’s autobiography ‘Just A Boy’ became a best-seller.
When I was about nine I began to believe that it was my responsibility to carry out some kind of revenge on behalf of my family. I wanted to kill random males and fantasized about attacking them from behind with a hammer. They represented society, everything around me that had done this thing to my mum.
I had a kind and loving mother but even before she was murdered there was a lot of violence in my turbulent childhood. I was four years old when my father left and yet Social Services put us back to live with dad after mum’s death, where the violence began again. One of the first things he did was drown the pet dog in the bath because the dog had annoyed him. I’ve forgiven Dad for his violence towards me but for that one incident I still struggle to find forgiveness.
When I was older I found myself occasionally acting aggressively towards girlfriends and that scared me because I didn’t want to be like dad. There was a lot of pent up anger inside me, which came to a head in Germany after I was posted there with the army. One day someone showed me a magazine with Peter Sutcliffe on the cover and that evening, after drinking, I went crazy in this pretty little German village – smashed fences, nicked a motorbike and damaged a car. It was more violence than the village had ever seen. I had a breakdown after that and ended up being medically discharged from the army. It was clear I had problems that hadn’t been dealt with and even though I subsequently got a good job, I started taking drugs and ended up serving a six-month jail sentence for drug dealing.
Then, in 2002, my sister Sonia stabbed her boyfriend in self-defence and just missed his heart. It was at this moment I realised I needed to write about my experience. I needed to tell the world why Sonia might do such a thing. I also became involved with SAMM (Support after Murder and Manslaughter), which changed my life because for the first time I met people who understood what I’d been through.
Writing my story was like shedding a skin. I confronted the past and talked about taboo subjects such as prostitution and murder. It liberated me and I knew one of the things I now had to consider was whether I should forgive Peter Sutcliffe. I thought about what mum would have wanted and concluded she would be really proud if I could forgive. I wanted Sutcliffe to confront the true enormity of his crime. To give my mum’s killer a conscience would feel like revenge in a way.
In the end I never did get to meet Peter Sutcliffe because his solicitor decided it was not appropriate. Instead I sent him my book but got no response. I was disappointed but in the end I had to let go of it.
Forgiveness fluctuates; it’s not a decision you come to. That’s too simple and doesn’t take into account your own anger which you have to explore, express and work through. Some people who knew mum are still bent on revenge but that’s not how I feel. What happened is part of my life, and has made me the person I am. In some ways Sutcliffe is like part of my family. I’ve grown up with this person and the legacy I want to leave is to use my experience to help others. I’m no longer carrying around remorse or bitterness and it’s no longer important that I meet Peter Sutcliffe, nor whether I forgive him or not. At times I just have this profound understanding that we’re all connected, all part of the same thing.