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The Ripper hoax tape: The Long Shadow's Liz White shares 'chilling' real-life story

 The Ripper hoax tape.
The Ripper hoax tape.

The receipt of the infamous Ripper hoax tape was the most chilling moment of the fifth episode of ITV's hit crime drama The Long Shadow.

The tape was addressed to DCS George Oldfield (David Morrissey) and arrived in the summer of 1979, during a period when West Yorkshire Police's hunt for the killer seemed to be floundering.

DCS Oldfield was convinced the tape, which was recorded by a man with a North East accent, had been sent by the so-called Yorkshire Ripper and decided to switch the focus of his investigation away from Yorkshire.

It was a terrible mistake that allowed Peter Sutcliffe time to attack more women, with John Humble — the hoaxer behind the tape and the letters that preceded it — sent to prison for his crimes in 2006.


In the months following the receipt of the Ripper hoax tape, the recording was played on television, radio and a telephone hotline that anyone could ring free of charge, yet one of the first people to hear it was PS Meg Winterburn.

The WPC was one of the few women who worked the Ripper case back in the 1970s and Liz White (Call The Midwife, Unforgotten) who plays her in The Long Shadow, said she felt honoured to bring her to the screen.

Liz was also desperate to hear about the day Meg was asked to transcribe the Ripper hoax tape, as depicted in the ITV drama.

"Meg said it was good to be asked, to be the one singled out to take on that responsibility, as they were all dying to do something other than filling in an incident card and take endless calls," says Liz.

"She went into the room by herself, listened to the tape and when she listened to it and was transcribing it, she was really calm. It was a chilling voice, but she was really calm and just did it and then handed it in. But when she had to walk from the building to her car, she said all the hairs went up on the back of her neck, and when she was driving home, she just thought, he’s going to pop up on the seat behind me or he’s going to pull me over or what if I get a flat tyre and then it's him, he’s got me."

The Long Shadow The Ripper hoax tape
The Long Shadow The Ripper hoax tape

"This kind of terror was running through her body. And when she got home, of course it’s really late and her husband is in bed, there is no one to debrief with, you can’t talk about the case very much outside of work, it’s not something you can offload to a friend. These police officers were living and breathing it for nearly six years."

Liz says Meg also played an instrumental role as a consultant on the ITV series, with writers and producers keen to hear what life was really like in the Ripper Squad's incident room.

"I felt really lucky that I could play Meg," explains Liz. "She's alive and well and was really open to any questions I had. I believe she was a really good source of research for George Kay when he was writing the piece and she helped the production team with details such as what the cards looked like in the incident room, how the incident room is laid out, the relationship between the WPCs on the ground and the specifics of the work that they got to do."

"When I met her, I could get more in depth with her about what it felt like at the time, what she was going through in her personal life and how it affected everyone’s personal lives because they were working such long days. I remember her saying ‘we worked hard but we played hard’."

While highlighting the stories of Sutcliffe's various victims, George Kay was also keen to show the toll taken on the police officers investigating his crimes, In the episode, Meg is seen arguing with her husband about the long hours spent at work.

"As the series develops you get a glimmer of what was going on at home for Meg," says Liz. "They were working 12-hour days, her relationship suffered and she actually separated from her husband before Sutcliffe was caught, because her job has taken her so far away from her family life and her relationship had broken down."

"She wasn’t the only one to endure that sort of personal break down. But she’s incredibly loyal to the team, one thing that she really insisted upon was even though there were set backs, blind alleys, the hoax tapes, the cabbies, and all these kind of dead ends along the way, they all wanted to catch him."

The Long Shadow is available to stream now on ITVX