Godfrey Alexander Oldfield (11 February 1919 – 4 July 1985), known as George Oldfield, was a British police detective who finished his career as Assistant Chief Constable of West Yorkshire Police. He is known for leading inquiries by the force into major crimes, including the M62 coach bombing and the 'Yorkshire Ripper' series of murders. The latter inquiry put great strain on his health.
Oldfield was the youngest of the four children of Alice (née Issott) (1881–1948) and John Oldfield (1875–1928). George's siblings included Maud Lea (1903–1992), Harold, and Evelyn McGuinn (1907–1999). He attended Archbishop Holgate's School in York. During his time there he became known by the name George, as he had disliked his birth name of 'Godfrey'. Throughout his life, his family called him 'Goff'. Oldfield married 21-year-old Agnes Clarkson in 1944; the couple had three children, Philip, Christopher and Gillian.
Oldfield joined the West Riding Police Force in 1947, specializing in the Criminal Investigation Department where he rose through the ranks.
Notable criminal cases
In February 1974, Detective Chief Superintendent Oldfield as head of the West Yorkshire CID, took command of the investigation into an Irish Republican Army bomb which had killed 12 people on board a coach carrying members of the British armed services along the M62 motorway on 4 February; he immediately made contact with the Garda Síochána and ordered forensic tests on the wreckage on the motorway. On 19 February the investigation charged Judith Ward with the bombing after she confessed and Griess tests on her hands indicated contact with explosives. Although she later retracted her confession, Ward was convicted of the bombing on 4 November 1974 and sentenced to 30 years' imprisonment.
The success of obtaining a conviction and heavy sentence for Ward provided a significant boost to Oldfield's reputation, and on 27 May 1976 he was promoted to be Assistant Chief Constable for Crime at West Yorkshire Police. It was some years after Oldfield's death that, in 1992, Ward's conviction was overturned as the forensic tests were discredited and her confession found to be the product of mental illness. In overturning the conviction, the Court of Appeal strongly criticised Oldfield for not disclosing a series of interviews with Ward to her defence team.
Yorkshire Ripper inquiry
As Assistant Chief Constable, Oldfield took the lead when starting in 1975 several women were found murdered or horrifically injured in Leeds and Bradford. When new attacks were linked with the same inquiry, Oldfield confirmed that the police believed they were being committed by the same man. From the fact that the murderer attacked and mutilated women, some of whom were associated with prostitution, the nickname "Yorkshire Ripper" came to be applied to him. Oldfield devoted himself to investigating the crimes, working long hours and taking little leave.
In June 1979, at a press conference Oldfield publicised a tape recording and letters received by the police in which Wearside Jack, a hoaxer, taunted Oldfield personally for being unable to catch him and claimed to be the murderer. Oldfield was convinced that the real murderer had been in contact and spent a great deal of time in the north east around Sunderland, as the accent of the man on the tape was determined to come from the Castletown area in the town.
However, in August 1979 Oldfield was taken ill with what was then described as a chest infection; he was off work for more than four months. When he returned it was acknowledged that Oldfield had had a heart attack. He did not return to the Ripper investigation.
The arrest of Peter Sutcliffe by South Yorkshire Police in Sheffield in January 1981 led to the discovery that he was the Yorkshire Ripper. Sutcliffe was from West Yorkshire and had no connection to Sunderland and it became apparent that the letters and tape had been a distraction from the hunt for the murderer. Oldfield did not attend Sutcliffe's trial at the Old Bailey in London; he still believed, although Sutcliffe had not written the letters or read the taped message, that there was a strong connection between them and the murder inquiry.
Shortly after the trial, Oldfield was transferred away from the CID to take charge of operational support. West Yorkshire police insisted that he was not being sacked or demoted, but moved to less onerous duties due to his health. In February 1982, he moved to be Assistant Chief Constable in charge of the Western Division, based at Bradford.
In 1983, Oldfield had a second heart attack and was off work for several months. During this time, the Chief Constable Ronald Gregory praised his officers who had worked hard and whose health had suffered under the pressure, including media criticism; the remark was interpreted as referring principally to Oldfield. It was announced in July 1983 that Oldfield was to retire at the end of August due to ill health.
- Bilton, Michael Wicked Beyond Belief, p. 127.
- "Seven people sought after bomb kills 11", The Times, 5 February 1974, p. 1.
- "Thirty years' jail for woman in M62 coach bomb trial", The Times, 5 November 1974, p. 4.
- "Mr George Oldfield", The Times, 6 July 1985, p. 10.
- "Promotion for top CID man", The Guardian, 28 May 1976, p. 26.
- Richard Ford, "Judges blame scientists, DPP and the police", The Times, 5 June 1992.
- "Attack may be linked with murders", The Times, 11 July 1977, p. 3.
- Malcolm Pithers, "Ripper investigator ill", The Guardian, 10 August 1979, p. 3.
- Malcolm Pithers, "Ripper book revalation angers police", The Guardian, 11 January 1980, p. 4.
- Malcolm Pithers, Nick Davies, "Home Office rules out Ripper inquiry", The Guardian, 25 May 1981.
- Nick Davies, Michael Parkin, "Atlanta rebuffs Ripper chief over murders", The Guardian, 6 June 1981, p. 2.
- "Ripper's pursuer moved", The Guardian, 10 February 1982, p. 2.
- "Ripper hunt chief suggests legalizing prostitution", The Times, 28 April 1983, p. 4.
- The Guardian, 27 July 1983, p. 2.
- "George Oldfield Is Dead at 61 - Hunted the 'Yorkshire Ripper'". The New York Times. Associated Press. 6 July 1985. Retrieved 31 May 2015.