The British serial killer known as the Yorkshire Ripper has died in hospital.

A UK Prison Service spokesman confirmed the death of Peter Sutcliffe, who was arrested in 1981 after a five-year killing spree during which he stabbed and bludgeoned at least 13 women to death.

He was convicted of 13 charges of murder and seven charges of attempted murder and spent the rest of his life in prison.

Sutcliffe had reportedly refused treatment at University Hospital of North Durham after being transferred there from maximum security HMP Frankland, where he was an inmate.

Sutcliffe, 74, had tested positive for Covid-19 and was suffering from underlying health conditions.

He was serving a whole life term for murdering 13 women across Yorkshire and north-west England between 1975 and 1980.

He was convicted in 1981 and, after a long spell in Broadmoor Hospital in Berkshire, he was transferred to HMP Frankland in 2016 after being deemed stable enough to serve time in prison.

A Prison Service spokesman said: "HMP Frankland prisoner Peter Coonan (born Sutcliffe) died in hospital on November 13. The Prisons and Probation Ombudsman has been informed."

Sutcliffe had reportedly suffered from a range of conditions before his death including heart trouble, diabetes and obesity.

Sutcliffe's victims were teenage girls, shop assistants, prostitutes and clerks.

Six of Sutcliffe's victims (Top L-R)  Vera Millward, Jayne MacDonald, Josephine Whittaker
(Bottom L-R) Jean Royle, Helga Rytka and Barbara Leach.

His unexpected confession to police in 1981 was followed by his decision to contest the charges, leading to an Old Bailey trial during which he claimed he was on a mission from God to kill prostitutes.

A relative loner at school, he left education aged 15 and took on a series of menial jobs. His work as a grave digger was said to have nurtured an awkward and macabre sense of humour.

On 10 August 1974, Sutcliffe married Sonia. Less than a year later, the lorry driver picked up a hammer and began attacking women, two in Keighley and one in Halifax.

Police mistakes which let Sutcliffe slip through the net 

All three survived and police did not notice the similarities between the attacks.

The first fatality was Wilma McCann. The 28-year-old sex worker and mother-of-four was murdered in the early hours of 30 October 1975 after Sutcliffe picked her up in Leeds.

He was later to tell police: "After that first time, I developed and played up a hatred for prostitutes in order to justify within myself a reason why I had attacked and killed Wilma McCann."

His next victim - 42-year-old Emily Jackson from Leeds - was murdered in January the following year.

Emily Jackson

He would apparently wait more than a year before striking again.

It was his fifth murder, that of 16-year-old Jayne MacDonald in April 1977, that saw the national press wake up to the fact a serial killer was on the loose.

Dubbed the Yorkshire Ripper, his identity went unknown for years. In fact police were totally misled by a hoax that took detectives to Sunderland, allowing Sutcliffe to keep on killing.

In 1979, a tape was sent to police by a man calling himself Jack the Ripper.

He had already sent a series of hand-written letters from Sunderland and police believed they were on to the killer, discounting all those without a Wearside accent on their substantial database of suspects - Sutcliffe included.

By the summer of that year, Sutcliffe had been interviewed five times. He also bore a significant resemblance to a widely circulated image of the prime suspect while a banknote discovered near one victim's body was traced to Sutcliffe's employer at the time.

However, the fact his accent and handwriting did not match those of the hoaxer meant Sutcliffe remained a free man.

He was finally caught in January 1981 when police ran a check on his car to discover the number plates were stolen.

His head covered with a blanket, Sutcliffe is escorted into Dewsbury Magistrates Court in January 1981

His passenger was 24-year-old Olivia Reivers. Detectives later discovered a hammer and a knife nearby.

Despite a 24-hour-long confession to the killings, Sutcliffe entered not-guilty pleas when indicted at court.

In May 1981, he was jailed for 20 life terms at the Old Bailey, the judge recommending a minimum sentence of 30 years.

He was transferred from Parkhurst prison on the Isle of Wight to Broadmoor secure hospital in Berkshire in 1984 after he was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia.

More than two decades later, a secret report revealed that Sutcliffe probably committed more crimes than the 13 murders and seven attempted murders for which he was convicted.

He left Broadmoor and moved back into mainstream prison in 2016, serving at Frankland Prison, Durham.

He was taken to hospital in October after suffering a suspected heart attack and returned to the University Hospital of North Durham a fortnight later having contracted coronavirus.

Sutcliffe insisted on being addressed by his mother's maiden name of Coonan.

John Apter, chairman of the Police Federation, urged people to remember Sutcliffe's victims.

He tweeted: "Lot's of breaking news about the death of convicted murderer Peter Sutcliffe. I understand why this is news worthy, but my ask of the media is lets show the faces of those he killed, not him.

"The 13 women he murdered and the 7 who survived his brutal attacks are in my thoughts."