JIM HOBSON - THE HONEST COPPER
When Jim Hobson was Chief Superintendent on the West Yorkshire force, he was credited with being the man who solved the Yorkshire Ripper murder inquiry. It was he who led the "Super Squad" that was formed in 1980 to crack the case and which brought to an end the six years of mayhem during which thirteen women were killed and seven others brutally maimed.
Before that, Hobson had been second in command under Assistant Chief Constable George Oldfield. And it was in that capacity - and in the midst of the worst part of the Ripper inquiry - that he came to the Carol Wilkinson murder case.
There seems little doubt that the confusion within the West Yorkshire police force that the Ripper case generated helped bring about the miscarriage of justice in the case of the murder of Carol Wilkinson.
When Carol was killed, the first thought was that it was another Ripper case. Both Professor Gee ( the Ripper case pathologist) and Assistant Chief Constable George Oldfield went to the scene of the Carole Wilkinson murder. They decided the Ripper was not her murderer because there were none of the tell-tale knife wounds in the stomach. They left the case to lesser men.
The day that Carol was killed was the very day on which the Ripper inquiry took a different turn - the body of Jean Jordan was discovered in Manchester with all the hallmarks of a Ripper murder. It was the first time that he had murdered outside of the Bradford area and the case was briefly called the "M65 murders" - and lorry drivers - such as Peter Sutcliffe - were interviewed. The net widened considerably at this point - and the case demanded, and got, all the experienced murder detectives in Yorkshire.
In spite of Hobson's deep involvement with the Ripper case, the investigation of the Carol Wilkinson murder was technically under his control. It's not surprising however, to see that Norman Mould and Raymond Falconer had a very free hand in how they conducted the case. But Hobson seemed to have some doubts about their abilities at the last moment.
When he heard that that Steel had signed a confession, he left the Ripper headquarters in Leeds and drove up to the Pudsey police station. Before the nails were finally hammered into Steel's coffin, he wanted to make sure they had the right man.
What he saw does not appear to have satisfied him. Mould and Falconer said they had enough for a murder charge. Hobson, with his wider experience of murder cases, wanted a bit more. He decided to interview Steel himself.
His statements show that he wanted more details about the attack. He gave his reasons when he was called at the trial. He said that the explanation that Steel gave in his confession statement was "not consistent really with what I knew had happened."
He pumped Steel for "special knowledge" - but Steel could offer only one further piece of evidence to prove his guilt. He said that Carol's handbag was black or dark brown. This didn't prove his guilt at all because he was wrong. Her bag was blue denim."
Hobson was ill-prepared for this interview. He had had nothing to do with it until he got the phone call about the confession. He had driven the half hour from Leeds, talked to Mould and Falconer, read Steel's confession, and had no doubt read the statements of the boys who had identified the key ring. That was all he had to go on. He did not know about the statements of those nearer to Carol Wilkinson who denied there was ever a key ring.
Even so, the statements he had contained the following interesting information:
Paul Wilkinson, Carolís brother said that she had the key ring attached to a brown handbag which he handed over to the police.
Neil Best had said it was on a "dark handbag".
Brian Best had said it was a dark brown handbag - and identified the brown handbag shown him as the one in question.
How strange that these three young men, particularly Paul Wilkinson, made the same mistake that Anthony Steel did in his interview with Hobson. After all, Steel also said that the Carol's handbag was dark and brown.
Hobson knew next to nothing about the first investigation eighteen months before - so he could not know that Carol's handbag was actually blue. So it's not surprising that he did not notice that far from getting any consistency with the facts from Steel, he had unearthed a further strange inconsistency.
Of course, prompted by Mould and Falconer, he would have been looking for consistency in a statement from Steel with descriptions already given of the key ring. Yet they saw their bosses final statement about the interview - why did they not point out to him that Steel had made a mistake?
Was it because Mould and Falconer genuinely thought Carol's handbag was brown - because they had not properly read the statements from 18 months before which said it was blue? Or was it that they did not want the case to fall down around their ears?
Further questions from Hobson showed just what kind of "special knowledge" he was trying to get out of Steel.
" Did you take her knickers down? - Steel said his memory was a blank, he couldn't remember.
Hobson asked " Did you take her tights down?" Steel said, he didn't know, he couldn't remember.
These two questions went to the real "special knowledge" of the case that only the murderer and a few others could know. People might guess that Carol's knickers and tights had been torn off - but only the murderer would know that she was having a period; her bloody tampax was found near her body.
This was what Hobson was trying to get out of Steel - but he failed.
We might ask why Hobson even tried to get this evidence - wasn't he happy enough with the "confession" that Mould and Falconer had already got out of Steel? Obviously he was not happy with it - and at the trial he actually admitted that he considered there was enough for a charge after he had read Steelís statement.
But he never got anything further out of Steel - and yet he agreed that Steel should be charged with the murder!
On this he was stoutly supported by Lord Chief Justice Lane at Steel's first appeal in 1981. He said:
" The criticism that an officer refrained from charging a detained man in custody is incomparably more serious than if he had charged a man on insufficient evidence."
However, Lord Lane added " it seems to us that nevertheless the evidence contained in the statement itself ( the confession) , coupled with everything else Ö was ample evidence for the jury to come to the conclusion that they did ."
No matter in what way one dresses this up, Hobson clearly did not think the case ready for a formal charge. He was looking for "special knowledge" and he possibly knew about the odd coincidence about the colour of the handbag - that Steel got the colour wrong just like the police witnesses had.
Hobson failed to get anything better on both these points - why then did he go ahead and allow Steel to be charged with the murder?
He went into the interview to get some more facts from Steel that would support the idea that Steel had done the murder. He came out without any proof that Steel had "special knowledge" - and with a new inconsistency ( the colour of the bag).
Jim Hobson later went on to become Assistant Chief Constable. He is now retired and lives in Harrogate. He says he cannot remember the Steel case at all - he has no recollection of the remarks he made to the court about not being happy with the case. His mind is a blank.
Steel, for one, knows that this excuse is no defence. He did life because he said his memory was a blank.