Hill v Chief Constable of West Yorkshire

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Hill v Chief Constable of West Yorkshire
Court House of Lords
Citation [1987] UKHL 12
[1989] AC 53
[1988] 2 All ER 238
[1988] 2 WLR 1049
Date decided April 28, 1988


Between 1975 and 1980, Peter Sutcliffe killed 13 young women and attempted to kill seven others. His last victim, Jacqueline Hill, a 20-year-old student at Leeds University, was murdered in Leeds on 17 November 1980. Sutcliffe had been arrested for drink-driving in April 1980. Whilst awaiting trial for this, he killed two more women (including Hill) and attacked three others who survived. He was eventually arrested in January 1981.

In her claim, Ms Hill's mother pointed to extensive failings on the part of West Yorkshire Police in relation to its investigation of the murders, and in particular officers' fixation upon a message purportedly from the killer which was later shown to be a hoax. Police officers interviewed Sutcliffe as a suspect nine times during their investigation. A number of the same failings would be highlighted subsequently in the Byford Report. This included a letter sent by one Trevor Birdsall, a long-time associate of Sutcliffe, who stated that Sutcliffe had a fixation with prostitutes and that Birdsall had reason to believe he might be the killer. Although Birdsall's letter was sent after Hill's death, it was ignored for months, which was seen as symptomatic of the systemic failings of the investigation.

Because the application was made to strike out on the basis that there was no cause of action, the courts proceeded on the hypothetical assumption that these criticisms were all true, but without making any findings of act in that regard. The Chief Constable was named as defendant in the action pursuant to section 48(1) of the Police Act 1964.


Whether the police are negligent because they investigated previous cases of murder in the area and failed to arrest the unknown attacker and prevent the murder of victim.


While a police officer may be liable in tort to a person who is injured as a direct result of their acts or omissions, and police officers owe to the general public a duty to enforce the criminal law, there are no specific requirements as to the manner in which they must do so.