Jack the Ripper running tours stumble into uproar over ‘exploitation’ of women victims

For more than a century, Jack the Ripper’s horrific murder of at least five women has exerted an iron grip on the public imagination, spawning countless books, films and theories about the Victorian killer.

But the latest spin off from the Jack the Ripper industry has prompted an outpouring of anger.

A running tour, in which groups of people run through the murderer’s East End haunts, as well as visiting the streets where the women he killed lived, has sparked accusations of “tastelessness” and “exploitation” of his victims.

The organisers have come under fire for continuing to stage the tours in the wake of the high-profile murders of Sarah Everard and Sabina Nessa in London and other female victims of male violence.

Secret London Runs, which organises the 10km tours at a cost of £24.60 per person, promises participants: “As we jog through the back-alleys of east London, you’ll be transported back to Victorian London at the time of the Whitechapel Murders.”

They continue: “Our tour begins by running you through the tragic events of 1888 and the surrounding social history: the police, the press and the conditions for east Londoners. But we’ll also have time to explore a number of theories of that age-old question – Who Was Jack the Ripper?”

A street near Spitalfields market in London where Jack the Ripper killed most of his victims

Credit: ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP/Getty Images

But critics have said the format of the tour is at odds with the grisly subject matter.

The tour’s promotional image shows what appears to be a woman running through a darkened alleyway with a silhouette of Jack the Ripper behind her.

Guy Walters, a writer and historian, told The Telegraph: “I’m a keen runner and I’m also a historian, but there are times when the two things should not be combined.

“Running is about self-improvement, fitness and fun. Jack the Ripper was a disgusting murderer of women. The two things don’t go together.

“What I find strange about horror is how it diminishes with time. Nobody would suggest doing a Yorkshire Ripper run so why is this acceptable? Is it because it’s a long time ago and the women don’t count? That’s simply wrong.”

Hallie Rubenhold, the author of an acclaimed book on Jack the Ripper’s victims, wrote: “Just when you thought they’d used up all the possible tasteless ideas…”

‘The bad taste boggles the mind’

Jessica Cale, the host of the podcast Dirty Secret History, wrote on Twitter: “A Jack the Ripper running tour? Sure, let’s trivialize the horrific deaths of those poor women for a novelty night out. The bad taste boggles the mind.”

But Secret Running Tours defended the runs, which were first launched a couple of years ago, arguing that they dealt with the Ripper’s murder of East End women with sensitivity, placing their lives and horrific deaths in their 19th century context, as part of a social history of the area.

The firm’s founder, Vanessa Cain-Tait, told The Telegraph: “Our guides know this is an inflammatory subject and we are very mindful that women died. We make sure we talk about his victims as people and look at what their lives were like as well as what happened to them.”

Secret Running Tours’ other events include London sightseeing, Chelsea Christmas, black history and Royal London.

“I hesitated about doing Ripper runs for quite a few years because I was worried about it because the subject is so controversial, but there was a huge demand for them from people who took part in our other runs,” said Ms Cain-Tait. 

“But these aren’t upbeat running events. We’ve written the tour in a delicate, sensitive way, as a social history. It’s like a walking tour, but we just cover more ground.”

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