New ITV drama The Long Shadow tells the dark and twisted story of the five-year hunt for serial killer Peter Sutcliffe, who at the time was dubbed the Yorkshire Ripper.


Between 1975 and 1980, Sutcliffe murdered 13 women and attempted to murder seven others.

The show follows the police’s attempts to bring Sutcliffe to justice, placing the victims, their families and the survivors at the heart of the series, hence the changing of the series's original title from The Yorkshire Ripper to The Long Shadow.

But what are the true-life stories of the people the show is based on? Read on for everything you need to know about the true story behind The Long Shadow and how closely the drama follows the real history.

The Long Shadow true story: What is the real story of Peter Sutcliffe?

David Morrissey as DCS George Oldfield in The Long Shadow wearing a white shirt, brown tie and brown suspenders
David Morrissey as DCS George Oldfield in The Long Shadow. New Pictures for ITV

The Long Shadow tells the story of the five-year hunt between 1975 and 1980 for a serial killer operating in Yorkshire, who became known via the press as the Yorkshire Ripper - but who was later found to be Peter Sutcliffe. All of his victims were women and many were prostitutes.

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Sutcliffe was a HGV driver who first began assaulting women in 1974 and 1975, before committing his first murder in October 1975, killing 28-year old mother of four Wilma McCann.

In 1976, Sutcliffe killed Emily Jackson, stabbing her 52 times, and later that year he attacked Marcella Claxton, a 20-year-old pregnant woman who survived, but miscarried as a result of the attack.

In 1977, he killed four more woman - 28-year-old Irene Richardson, 32-year-old Patricia Atkinson, 16-year-old Jayne McDonald and 20-year-old Jean Jordan - and attacked two others, 43-year-old Maureen Long and 25-year-old Marilyn Moore, who both survived.

In 1978, Sutcliffe killed 17-year-old Yvonne Pearson, 18-year-old Helen Rytka and 40-year-old Vera Millward, and in 1979 he killed 19-year-old Josephine Whitaker and 20-year-old Barbara Leach.

That year, the police received a taped message, supposedly from the killer, in which he spoke with a Sunderland accent. This diverted the police for many months, with the real person behind the recording later becoming known as Wearside Jack.

In 2006, Wearside Jack was finally tracked down, with the police discovering he was really John Humble, who went on to be sentenced to eight years in prison for perverting the course of justice. He died in 2019.

In 1980, Sutcliffe murdered 47-year-old Marguerite Walls and 20-year-old Jacqueline Hill, before finally being caught and arrested in 1981 in Sheffield, when he had a prostitute in his car.

The police found he had fake number plates and brought him in for questioning. He eventually confessed to being the so-called Yorkshire Ripper and was later found guilty of the murders of 13 women and the attempted murder of seven others.

It is believed he had previously been questioned by authorities nine times in relation to the murders, but was never arrested. He was given 20 consecutive life sentences, and in 2020 he died in prison, aged 74.

How closely does The Long Shadow stick to the real history?

Charley Webb as WPC Anna Lawson in The Long Shadow wearing a black police uniform
Charley Webb as WPC Anna Lawson in The Long Shadow. New Pictures for ITV

Each episode of The Long Shadow starts with the following disclaimer: "This is a true story. Some names have been changed. Some scenes and characters have been created for the purposes of dramatisation."

This means that, as is common among dramas based on true stories, the series won't entirely stick to the exact documented events, but will stick predominantly to the events as they occurred and have been documented.

On the research conducted for the show, the series's writer George Kay said: "It was no small thing to research and accurately present the full impact and legacy of this case – a five-year investigation that touched the lives of thousands in ways both monumental and negligible.

"Our exploration and research into the stories of the women who fatally crossed Peter Sutcliffe’s path emphasised the disgraceful way sex workers are still persecuted today."

He also said: "With people in 2023 holding to account the institutional foundations that foster misogyny, racism and violence against women, The Long Shadow speaks to the societal issues of the past whilst highlighting alarming parallels between these terrible crimes and tragic events in our more recent history.

"Over 40 years apart, women all over the UK continue to fight for the same justice. To be able to walk the streets without fear."

The Long Shadow began airing on ITV1 and ITVX from 25th September 2023. Check out more of our Drama coverage or visit our TV Guide and Streaming Guide to find out what's on.


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