AddThis SmartLayers

Journalist who covered Ripper case dies aged 81

A journalist who was one of the first to coin the term the ‘Yorkshire Ripper’ to refer to murderer Peter Sutcliffe has died at the age of 81.

Gilbert Johnson started his career on the South Yorkshire Times in his hometown of Mexborough before moving to the Hull Daily Mail.

Within two years he was working for the nationals, covering the Yorkshire area for the Daily Herald, then the Daily Sketch and then the Express, where in 1964 he earned £32 per week.

He was a staff reporter when Rupert Murdoch changed the face of the industry by re-launching The Sun and he also worked on the News Of The World.

He was at the heart of The Sun’s coverage into the crimes of Peter Sutcliffe, and was one of the first to coin the chilling ‘Yorkshire Ripper’ identity.

Journalist and PR consultant Mike Ackroyd, who worked for the Hull Daily Mail during the 1950s and 1960s, said: “His wide knowledge, interest in current affairs and well-honed journalistic skills made him a formidable news man even if his imagination sometimes ran away with him. Above all he was a real character who was very well known.”

Gilbert’s education included five years at De La Salle College in Sheffield and on returning from National Service with the Royal Army Ordnance Corps in Kenya it was expected he would resume his studies for the priesthood.

“But he told the priest he had decided mortal sin was much better, so he became a newspaperman,” said Susan Last, one of Gilbert’s daughters.

A book compiled by members of his family and presented to Gilbert in 2006 charted some of his career highlights. These include reports on the John Poulson scandal in 1972,reports from three weeks Gilbert spent on board a Hull trawler during the Cod Wars and coverage of the mining disaster in 1973 that claimed seven lives at Lofthouse Colliery near Wakefield.

On leaving The Sun in the late 1970s Gilbert worked as a freelance journalist and covered the Lockington train disaster.

Gilbert passed away on 29 July. He is survived by his wife Shirley, their son Chris, daughters Kate, Susan and Vicki and grandchildren Amy, Hayley, Matthew and Max.


You can follow all replies to this entry through the comments feed.
  • August 3, 2011 at 9:36 am

    How can you be “one of the first to coin the term ‘Yorkshire Ripper'”? He either was the first or was just someone who ripped it off.

    Report this comment

    Like this comment(1)
  • August 4, 2011 at 12:39 pm

    On 28 Mar 1978 a story appeared with Gilbert’s by-line that opened: “A copy cat killer may be following in the bloody footsteps of the Jack the Ripper fiend who prays on prostitutes”. To the very best of our knowledge he later adapted this and coined the term “Yorkshire Ripper”. It’s a shame that Neil’s only comment about the passing of such a special man is petty nitpicking.

    Report this comment

    Like this comment(1)
  • August 15, 2011 at 9:59 am

    As a former Northern Chief Reporter for the Sunday Mirror, I workd with – and drank -with dear old Gilbert for many years. He was one of the great characters in what were the dying years of national newspaper district men.

    But much as I loved him, he was not the man who invented the Yorkshire Ripper label. That was the late Ken Yates, former Leeds district man of the Sunday Mirror who, incidentally, was also a great friend of Gilbert’s.

    I still miss Ken and will now have to add Gilbert to a long list of former colleagues who added the sparkle to what were often pretty grim years.

    Report this comment

    Like this comment(1)