|Born||Peter William Sutcliffe
2 June 1946
Bingley, West Riding of Yorkshire, England
|Other names||The Yorkshire Ripper|
Span of killings
|2 January 1981|
Peter William Sutcliffe (born 2 June 1946) is a British serial killer who was dubbed "The Yorkshire Ripper" by the press. In 1981 Sutcliffe was convicted of murdering 13 women and attempting to murder seven others.
Sutcliffe had regularly used prostitutes in Leeds and Bradford. His outbreak of violence towards them seems to have occurred because he was swindled out of money by a prostitute and her pimp, but he later claimed to have been sent on a mission to kill prostitutes by the voice of God.
He carried out his murder spree over a five year period, during which the public were especially shocked by the murders of some women who were not prostitutes. When arrested in January 1981 for driving with false number-plates, police questioned him about the killings and he confessed that he was the perpetrator.
At his trial, he pleaded not guilty to murder on grounds of diminished responsibility, owing to a diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia, but this defence was rejected by a majority of the jury. He is serving twenty concurrent sentences of life imprisonment, currently in Broadmoor High Security Hospital. After his conviction, Sutcliffe began using his mother's maiden name and became Peter William Coonan.
West Yorkshire Police were criticised for the time they took in apprehending Sutcliffe, despite interviewing him nine times during the murder hunt. Owing to the sensational nature of the case, they were having to handle an exceptional volume of information, some of it misleading, including a hoax recorded message and letters purporting to be from the "Ripper". Nevertheless, the 2006 Byford Report of the official enquiry confirmed the validity of the criticism.
The High Court dismissed an appeal by Sutcliffe in 2010, confirming that he would serve a whole life tariff and would never be released from prison.
Sutcliffe was born in Bingley, West Riding of Yorkshire to a working class Catholic family. His parents were John William Sutcliffe and his wife Kathleen Frances, née Coonan. Reportedly a loner, he left school at the age of 15 and took a series of menial jobs, including two stints as a gravedigger in the 1960s. Between November 1971 and April 1973 Sutcliffe worked at the factory of Baird Television Ltd, on a packaging line. He left when he was asked to go on the road as a salesman.
After leaving Baird, he worked night-shifts at the Britannia Works of Anderton International from April 1973. In February 1975 he took redundancy and used the pay-off to gain an HGV licence on 4 June 1975 and began to work as a driver for a tyre firm on 29 September. On 5 March 1976 he was dismissed for the theft of used tyres. He was unemployed until October 1976, when he found a job as an HGV driver for T.& W.H. Clark (Holdings) Ltd. on the Canal Road Industrial Estate in Bradford.
He met Sonia Szurma (who was of Czech and Ukrainian parentage) on 14 February 1967; they married on 10 August 1974. His wife suffered several miscarriages and the couple were informed that she would not be able to have children. She resumed a teacher training course, during which time she had an affair with an ice-cream van driver. When she completed the course in 1977 and began teaching, they used her salary to buy a house in Heaton, Bradford, where they moved on 26 September 1977, and where they lived at the time of Sutcliffe's arrest.
Attacks and murders
Sutcliffe committed an assault on an older prostitute whom he had met whilst searching for the woman who had tricked him out of money. He left his friend's mini-van and walked up St. Paul's Road, Bradford, until he was out of sight. When he came back, he was out of breath, as if he had been running. He told his long-term friend Trevor Birdsall, who was driving the vehicle to drive off quickly. Sutcliffe said that he had followed a prostitute into a garage and hit her over the head with a stone in a sock. According to his statement, Sutcliffe said, "I got out of the car, went across the road and hit her. The force of the impact tore the toe off the sock and whatever was in it came out. I went back to the car and got in it".
The police visited his home the next day, as the woman he had attacked had noted down Birdsall's mini-van vehicle registration plate. Sutcliffe admitted he had hit her over the head, but claimed that it was only with his hand. The police told him he was "very lucky" as the woman did not want anything more to do with the incident – she was a known prostitute, and her husband was serving a jail term for assault.
Sutcliffe committed his second assault on the night of 5 July 1975 in Keighley. He attacked Anna Rogulskyj, who was walking alone, striking her unconscious with a ball-peen hammer and slashing her stomach with a knife. Disturbed by a neighbour, he left without killing her. Rogulskyj survived after extensive medical intervention but was emotionally traumatised by the attack.
Sutcliffe attacked Olive Smelt in Halifax in August. Employing the same modus operandi he struck her from behind and used a knife to slash her, this time above her buttocks. Again he was interrupted, and left his victim badly injured but alive. Like Rogulskyj, Smelt suffered emotional scars, including clinical depression. On 27 August, Sutcliffe attacked 14 year old Tracy Browne in Silsden. He struck her from behind and hit her on the head five times while she was walking along a country lane. He ran off when he saw the lights of a passing car, leaving his victim requiring brain surgery. Sutcliffe was not convicted of the attack, but confessed to it in 1992.
The first victim to lose her life was Wilma McCann on 30 October. McCann, from the Chapeltown district of Leeds, was a mother of four. Sutcliffe struck her twice with a hammer before stabbing her 15 times in the neck, chest and abdomen. Traces of semen were found on her underwear. An extensive inquiry, involving 150 police officers and 11,000 interviews, failed to find the culprit. One of McCann's daughters committed suicide in December 2007, reportedly after suffering years of torment over her mother's death.
Sutcliffe committed his next murder in Leeds in January 1976, when he stabbed Emily Jackson 51 times. In dire financial straits, Jackson had been using the family van to exchange sexual favours for money. Sutcliffe hit her on the head with a hammer and then used a sharpened screwdriver to stab her in the neck, chest and abdomen. Sutcliffe stamped on her thigh, leaving behind an impression of his boot.
Sutcliffe attacked Marcella Claxton in Roundhay Park, Leeds, on 9 May. Walking home from a party, she was given a lift by Sutcliffe. When she got out of the car to urinate, Sutcliffe hit her from behind with a hammer. She was left alive and was able to testify against Sutcliffe at his trial.
On 5 February Sutcliffe attacked Irene Richardson, a Chapeltown prostitute, in Roundhay Park. Richardson was bludgeoned to death with a hammer. Once she was dead, he mutilated her corpse with a knife. Tyre tracks left near the murder scene resulted in a long list of possible suspect vehicles.
Two months later, on 23 April, Sutcliffe killed Patricia "Tina" Atkinson, a prostitute from Bradford, in her flat, where police found a bootprint on the bedclothes. Two months later he committed another murder in Chapeltown, 16-year-old Jayne MacDonald, on 26 June. She was not a prostitute. In the public perception, her death showed that every woman was a potential victim. Sutcliffe seriously assaulted Maureen Long in Bradford in July. He was interrupted and left her for dead. A witness misidentified the make of his car. More than 300 police officers working the case amassed 12,500 statements and checked thousands of cars, without success. On 1 October 1977 Sutcliffe murdered Jean Jordan, a prostitute from Manchester. Her body was found ten days later and had been moved several days after death. In a confession, Sutcliffe said he had realised the new £5 note he had given her was traceable. After hosting a family party at his new home, he returned to wasteland behind Manchester's Southern Cemetery, where he had left the body, to retrieve the note. Unable to find it, he mutilated Jordan's corpse and moved it.
The following morning, Jordan was discovered by a local dairy worker named Bruce Jones, who later became an actor. He had an allotment on land adjoining the site where the body was found and was searching for disused house bricks when he made the discovery. The £5 note, hidden in a secret compartment in Jordan's handbag, offered a valuable piece of evidence. It was traced to branches of the Midland Bank in Shipley and Bingley. Police analysis of bank operations allowed them to narrow their field of inquiry to 8,000 employees who could have received it in their wagepacket. Over three months the police interviewed 5,000 men, including Sutcliffe.
On 14 December Sutcliffe attacked Marilyn Moore, another prostitute from Leeds. Moore survived and provided police with a description of her attacker. Tyre tracks found at the scene matched those from an earlier attack.
The police discontinued the search for the person who received the £5 note in January 1978. Although Sutcliffe was interviewed about it, he was not investigated further (he would ultimately be contacted, and disregarded, by the Ripper Squad on several further occasions). That month, Sutcliffe killed again. His victim was Yvonne Pearson, a 21-year-old prostitute from Bradford. Sutcliffe hid her body under a discarded sofa and it was not found until March. He killed Helen Rytka, a 18-year-old prostitute from Huddersfield, on the night of 31 January. Her body was found three days later. On 16 May, Sutcliffe killed again after a three-month hiatus. The victim was Vera Millward whom he killed during an attack in the car park of Manchester Royal Infirmary.
On 4 April 1979 Sutcliffe killed Josephine Whitaker, a 19-year-old building society clerk. He attacked her on Saville Park Moor, Halifax, as she was walking home. Despite forensic evidence, police efforts were diverted for several months following receipt of a taped message purporting to be from the murderer. The message taunted Assistant Chief Constable George Oldfield, who was leading the investigation. The tape contained a man's voice saying "I'm Jack. I see you're having no luck catching me. I have the greatest respect for you, George, but Lord, you're no nearer catching me now than four years ago when I started."
Based on the recorded message, police began searching for a man with a Wearside accent, which was narrowed down to the Castletown area of Sunderland. The hoaxer, dubbed "Wearside Jack", sent two letters to police in 1978, that boasted of his crimes. The letters, signed "Jack The Ripper", claimed responsibility for the murder of 26-year-old Joan Harrison in Preston in November 1975. (On 20 October 2005, John Samuel Humble, an unemployed alcoholic and long-time resident of the Ford Estate area of Sunderland – a mile from Castletown – was charged with attempting to pervert the course of justice for sending the hoax letters and tape. He was remanded in custody. On 21 March 2006 Humble was convicted and sentenced to eight years in prison.)
On 1 September Sutcliffe murdered 20-year-old Barbara Leach, a Bradford University student. Her body dumped at the rear of 13 Ash Grove, under a pile of bricks, close to the university and her lodgings. It was his sixteenth attack. The murder of a woman who was not a prostitute again alarmed the public and prompted an expensive publicity campaign, which emphasised the Wearside connection. Despite the false lead, Sutcliffe was interviewed on at least two further occasions in 1979. Despite matching several forensic clues and being on the list of 300 names in connection with the £5 note, he was not strongly suspected. In total, Sutcliffe was interviewed by police nine times.
In April 1980 Sutcliffe was arrested for drunk driving. While awaiting trial, he killed two more women. He murdered 47-year-old Marguerite Walls on the night of 20 August, and 20-year-old Jacqueline Hill, a student at Leeds University, on the night of 17 November. Hill's body was found in the grounds of the Lupton Residences. He also attacked three other women who survived. They were Dr Uphadya Bandara, attacked in Leeds on 24 September, Maureen Lea, an art student attacked in the grounds of Leeds University on 25 October and 16-year-old Theresa Sykes, attacked in Huddersfield on the night of 5 November. On 25 November Trevor Birdsall, an associate of Sutcliffe, reported him to the police as a suspect. This information vanished into the enormous amount of paperwork already created.
1981 arrest and trial
On 2 January 1981, Sutcliffe was stopped by the police with 24-year-old prostitute Olivia Reivers in the driveway of Light Trades House, Melbourne Avenue, Broomhill, Sheffield in South Yorkshire. A police check revealed the car was fitted with false number plates and Sutcliffe was arrested and transferred to Dewsbury Police Station, West Yorkshire. At Dewsbury he was questioned in relation to the Yorkshire Ripper case as he matched many of the known physical characteristics. The next day police returned to the scene of the arrest and discovered a knife, hammer and rope he had discarded when he briefly slipped away from the police after telling them he was "bursting for a pee". Sutcliffe had hidden a second knife in the toilet cistern at the police station when he was permitted to use the toilet. The police obtained a search warrant for his home at 6 Garden Lane in Heaton, Bradford, and brought his wife in for questioning.
When Sutcliffe was stripped of his clothing at the police station he was wearing a V-neck sweater under his trousers. The sleeves had been pulled over his legs and the V-neck exposed his genital area. The front of the elbows were padded to protect his knees as, presumably, he knelt over his victims' corpses. The sexual implications of this outfit were held to be obvious, but it was not communicated to the public until the 2003 book, Wicked Beyond Belief: The Hunt for the Yorkshire Ripper, written by Michael Bilton. After two days of intensive questioning, on the afternoon of 4 January 1981 Sutcliffe suddenly declared he was the Ripper. Over the next day, Sutcliffe calmly described his many attacks. Weeks later he claimed God had told him to murder the women. He displayed emotion only when telling of the killing of his youngest victim, Jayne MacDonald, and when he was questioned about the murder of Joan Harrison, which he vehemently denied committing. Harrison’s murder had only been linked to the Ripper killings by the "Wearside Jack" claim, and in 2011, DNA evidence proved that the crime had been committed by convicted sex offender Christopher Smith, who had died in 2008.
Sutcliffe was charged at Dewsbury on 5 January. At his trial, Sutcliffe pleaded not guilty to 13 counts of murder, but guilty to manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility. The basis of this defence was his claim that he was the tool of God's will. Sutcliffe first claimed to have heard voices while working as a gravedigger, that ordered him to kill "prostitutes" He claimed that the voices originated from a headstone of a deceased Polish man, Bronisław Zapolski, and that the voices were that of God.
He pleaded guilty to seven counts of attempted murder. The prosecution intended to accept Sutcliffe's plea after four psychiatrists diagnosed him with paranoid schizophrenia. However, the trial judge, Mr Justice Boreham, demanded an unusually detailed explanation of the prosecution reasoning. After a two-hour representation by the Attorney-General Sir Michael Havers, a 90-minute lunch break and further 40 minutes of legal discussion, he rejected the diminished responsibility plea and the expert testimonies of the four psychiatrists, insisting that the case should be dealt with by a jury. The trial proper was set to commence on 5 May 1981.
The trial lasted two weeks and despite the efforts of his counsel James Chadwin QC, Sutcliffe was found guilty of murder on all counts and sentenced to life imprisonment. The trial judge said Sutcliffe was beyond redemption, and he hoped he would never leave prison. He recommended a minimum term of 30 years to be served before parole is considered. The recommendation meant that Sutcliffe would have been unlikely to be freed until at least 2011, aged 65. On 16 July 2010 his sentence was extended to a full life term, meaning that Sutcliffe will not leave prison alive, barring any judicial developments to the contrary.
After his trial, Sutcliffe admitted two further attacks. It was decided that prosecution for these offences was "not in the public interest". West Yorkshire Police have made it clear that the victims wish to remain anonymous.
Criticism of West Yorkshire Police
West Yorkshire Police were criticised for being inadequately prepared for an investigation on this scale. It was one of the largest investigations by a British police force and pre-dated the use of computers. Information on suspects was stored on handwritten index cards. Aside from difficulties in storing and accessing the paperwork (the floor of the incident room was reinforced to cope with the weight of the paper), it was difficult for officers to overcome the information overload of such a large manual system. Sutcliffe was interviewed nine times, but all information the police had about the case was stored in paper form, making cross-referencing difficult compounded by television appeals for information which generated thousands more documents.
Assistant Chief Constable George Oldfield was criticised for being too focused on the "I'm Jack" Wearside tape and letters. The investigation used them as a point of elimination rather than a line of enquiry and allowed Sutcliffe to avoid scrutiny, as he did not fit the profile of the sender of the tape or letters. The "Wearside Jack" hoaxer was given unusual credibility when analysis of saliva on the envelopes he sent showed he had the same blood group as the Yorkshire Ripper had left at crime scenes, a type shared by only 6% of the population. The hoaxer appeared to know details of the murders which had not been released to the press but which he had acquired from his local newspaper and pub gossip. The official response to the criticisms led to the implementation of the forerunner of the Home Office Large Major Enquiry System, the development of the Major Incident Computer Application (MICA), developed between West Yorkshire Police and ISIS Computer Services.
In 1988, the mother of Sutcliffe's last victim, Jacqueline Hill, during action for damages on behalf of her daughter's estate argued in the High Court that the police had failed to use reasonable care in apprehending the murderer of her daughter in Hill v Chief Constable of West Yorkshire Police 1988. The House of Lords held that the Chief Constable of West Yorkshire did not owe a duty of care to the victim due to the lack of proximity and therefore failing on the second limb of the Caparo test. 
The Inspector of Constabulary Sir Lawrence Byford's 1981 report of an official inquiry into the Ripper case was not released by the Home Office until 1 June 2006. The sections "Description of suspects, photofits and other assaults" and parts of the section on Sutcliffe's "immediate associates" were not disclosed by the Home Office.
Referring to the period between 1969, when Sutcliffe first came to the attention of police, and 1975, the year of the murder of Wilma McCann, the report states: "There is a curious and unexplained lull in Sutcliffe's criminal activities and there is the possibility that he carried out other attacks on prostitutes and unaccompanied women during that period." In 1969 Sutcliffe, described in the Byford Report as an "otherwise unremarkable young man", came to the notice of police on two occasions in connection with incidents involving prostitutes. The report said that it was clear he had on at least one occasion attacked a Bradford prostitute with a blackjack. Also in 1969 he was arrested in the red light district of the city in possession of a hammer. Rather than believing Sutcliffe might use the hammer as an offensive weapon, the arresting officers assumed he was a burglar and he was charged with "going equipped for stealing."
Byford's report states: "We feel it is highly improbable that the crimes in respect of which Sutcliffe has been charged and convicted are the only ones attributable to him. This feeling is reinforced by examining the details of a number of assaults on women since 1969 which, in some ways, clearly fall into the established pattern of Sutcliffe’s overall modus operandi. I hasten to add that I feel sure that the senior police officers in the areas concerned are also mindful of this possibility but, in order to ensure full account is taken of all the information available, I have arranged for an effective liaison to take place." Police identified a number of attacks which matched Sutcliffe's modus operandi and tried to question the killer, but he was never charged with other crimes.
The Byford Report's major findings were contained in a summary published by the Home Secretary, William Whitelaw, the first time precise details of the bungled police investigation had been disclosed. Sir Lawrence described delays in following up vital tip-offs from Trevor Birdsall, an associate of Sutcliffe since 1966. On 25 November 1980, Birdsall sent an anonymous letter to police, the text of which ran as follows:
|“||I have good reason to now [sic] the man you are looking for in the Ripper case. This man as [sic] dealings with prostitutes and always had a thing about them… His name and address is Peter Sutcliffe, 6 Garden Lane, Heaton, Bradford. Works for Clarke's Transport, Shipley.||”|
This letter was marked "Priority No 1". An index card was created on the basis of the letter and a policewoman found Sutcliffe already had three existing index cards in the records. But "for some inexplicable reason", said the Byford Report, the papers remained in a filing tray in the incident room until the murderer’s arrest on 2 January the following year.
Birdsall visited Bradford Police Station the day after sending the letter to repeat his misgivings about Sutcliffe. He added that he was with Sutcliffe when Sutcliffe got out of a car to pursue a woman with whom he had had a bar room dispute in Halifax on 16 August 1975. This was the date and place of the Olive Smelt attack. A report compiled on the visit was lost, despite a "comprehensive search" which took place after Sutcliffe's arrest, according to the report. Byford said:
|“||The failure to take advantage of Birdsall’s anonymous letter and his visit to the police station was yet again a stark illustration of the progressive decline in the overall efficiency of the major incident room. It resulted in Sutcliffe being at liberty for more than a month when he might conceivably have been in custody. Thankfully, there is no reason to think he committed any further murderous assaults within that period.||”|
Prison and Broadmoor Hospital
Following his conviction and incarceration, Sutcliffe chose to use the name Coonan, which was his mother's maiden name. Sutcliffe began his sentence at HMP Parkhurst on 22 May 1981. Despite being found sane at his trial, he was diagnosed as suffering from paranoid schizophrenia. Attempts to send him to a secure psychiatric unit were initially blocked. During his time at Parkhurst he was seriously assaulted for the first time. The attack was carried out by James Costello, a 35-year-old career criminal from Glasgow with several convictions for violence. On 10 January 1983, he followed Sutcliffe into the recess of F2, the hospital wing at Parkhurst Prison and plunged a broken coffee jar twice into the left side of Sutcliffe's face, creating four separate wounds requiring 30 stitches. In March 1984 Sutcliffe was finally sent to Broadmoor Hospital, under Section 47 of the Mental Health Act 1983.
His wife Sonia obtained a separation from him in 1982 and a divorce in April 1994. On 23 February 1996, Sutcliffe was attacked in his private room in the Henley Ward of Broadmoor Hospital. Paul Wilson, a convicted robber, asked to borrow a videotape before attempting to strangle him with the cable from a pair of stereo headphones. Two other convicted murderers, Kenneth Erskine (the "Stockwell Strangler") and Jamie Devitt, intervened on hearing Sutcliffe's screams.
After an attack by fellow inmate Ian Kay on 10 March 1997 with a pen, Sutcliffe lost vision in his left eye, and his right eye was severely damaged. Kay admitted he had tried to kill Sutcliffe, and was ordered to be detained in a secure mental hospital without limit of time.
Sutcliffe's father died in 2004 and was cremated. On 17 January 2005 Sutcliffe was allowed to visit Grange-over-Sands where the ashes had been scattered. The decision to allow the temporary release was initiated by David Blunkett and ratified by Charles Clarke when he became Home Secretary. Sutcliffe was accompanied by four members of the hospital staff. Despite the passage of 25 years since the Ripper murders, Sutcliffe's visit was the focus of front-page tabloid headlines.
On 22 December 2007, Sutcliffe was attacked again. Fellow inmate Patrick Sureda lunged at him with a metal cutlery knife while shouting "You fucking raping, murdering bastard, I'll blind your fucking other one". Sutcliffe flung himself backwards and the blade missed his right eye, instead stabbing him in the cheek.
On 17 February 2009, it was reported that Sutcliffe was "fit to leave Broadmoor". On 23 March 2010, the Secretary of State for Justice, Jack Straw, was questioned by Julie Kirkbride, Conservative MP for Bromsgrove, in the House of Commons. Kirkbride sought reassurance for one of her constituents, a victim of Sutcliffe, that he would remain in prison. Straw responded that whilst the matter of Sutcliffe's release was a parole board matter, "that all the evidence that I have seen on this case, and it's a great deal, suggests to me that there are no circumstances in which this man will be released".
2010 appeal and High Court decision
An application by Sutcliffe for a minimum term to be set (offering the possibility of parole after that date if it is thought safe to release him) was heard by the High Court of Justice on 16 July 2010. The High Court decided that Sutcliffe will never be released. Mr Justice Mitting stated:
"This was a campaign of murder which terrorised the population of a large part of Yorkshire for several years. The only explanation for it, on the jury's verdict, was anger, hatred and obsession. Apart from a terrorist outrage, it is difficult to conceive of circumstances in which one man could account for so many victims."
Psychological reports describing his mental state were taken into consideration, as was the severity of his crimes. Barring judicial decisions to the contrary, Sutcliffe will spend the rest of his life in Broadmoor Hospital. On 4 August 2010, a spokeswoman for the Judicial Communications Office confirmed that Sutcliffe had initiated an appeal against the decision.
The hearing for Sutcliffe's appeal against the ruling began on 30 November 2010 at the Court of Appeal. It was rejected on 14 January 2011. On 9 March 2011, the Court of Appeal rejected Sutcliffe's application for leave to appeal to the Supreme Court.
Sutcliffe was convicted of murdering the following thirteen victims:
|Date||Name of victim||Age at death||Body found||Location on map|
|30 October 1975||Wilma McCann||28||Prince Phillip Playing Fields, Leeds
|20 January 1976||Emily Jackson||42||Manor Street, Sheepscar, Leeds
|5 February 1977||Irene Richardson||28||Roundhay Park, Leeds
|23 April 1977||Patricia Atkinson||32||Flat 3, 9 Oak Avenue, Bradford
|26 June 1977||Jayne MacDonald||16||Adventure playground, Reginald Street, Leeds
|1 October 1977||Jean Jordan||20||Allotments next to Southern Cemetery, Manchester
|21 January 1978||Yvonne Pearson||21||Under a discarded sofa on waste ground off Arthington Street, Bradford
|31 January 1978||Helen Rytka||18||Timber yard in Great Northern Street, Huddersfield
|16 May 1978||Vera Millward||40||Grounds of Manchester Royal Infirmary, Manchester
|4 April 1979||Josephine Whitaker||19||Savile Park, Halifax
|2 September 1979||Barbara Leach||20||Back of 13 Ashgrove, Bradford
|20 August 1980||Marguerite Walls||47||Garden of a house called "Claremont", New Street, Farsley, Leeds
|17 November 1980||Jacqueline Hill||20||Waste ground off Alma Road, Headingley, Leeds
- Blackout Ripper
- Camden Ripper
- Ipswich serial murders
- List of prisoners with whole-life tariffs
- List of serial killers by number of victims
- Red Riding
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