Global Politics

Freedom of Information and Jack the Ripper

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One of a series of images from the Illustrated London News for October 13, 1888. (Image from Illustrated London News, Wikimedia Commons)

Story from PRI's The World. Listen to audio above for full report.

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Trevor Marriott, a retired police detective, has spent years investigating the 123-year-old Jack the Ripper case. His trawl for official records included those kept by a Scotland Yard department called Special Branch, which deals with national security.

Marriott filed several Freedom of Information requests to get access to the records.

"The lines of inquiry that I pursued as far as this is concerned are exactly the same lines of inquiry that I would've done as if I was still a police officer investigating a crime," Marriott said. “No matter how insignificant you think they are because somewhere along the line there may be that little piece of information or something new that’s going to come out to turn everything on its side."

What Marriott wants is an index of files that were kept in the six years after the Ripper murders. Some entries apparently have the names of suspects. There's also a log of payments made to informants. Most of the files themselves are long gone, but a few have survived from the Ripper era.

It's not even clear that they are about the case, because they're still being kept secret.

Trevor Marriott just wanted to know one way or the other. But after each request, he was turned down.

American journalist Heather Brooke thinks Britain's relatively new Freedom of Information law is why the records haven’t been released. She said the law is just weak.

"I see no public interest reason why records that are over 100 years old should still be kept secret," said Brooke, who works in the UK.

Read the rest of this story on The World website.

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PRI's "The World" is a one-hour, weekday radio news magazine offering a mix of news, features, interviews, and music from around the globe. "The World" is a co-production of the BBC World Service, PRI and WGBH Boston. More about The World.

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