EVENT REVIEW: The Story of Wearside Jack with Mark Blacklock and Northumbria University

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Sunday 11 October
Burlison Gallery, Durham Town Hall

Review by Annie-Rose Mears

Back in 2005, the UK was introduced to John Humble. The Yorkshire ripper hoaxer, a true time waster, and a criminal. He was tracked down by a simple saliva sample. It was an amateur mistake that would lead him to be interred for the next eight years of his life. He perverted the course of justice, and caused a massive hindrance in to the Yorkshire ripper case. Now 10 years later, Mark Blacklock portrays the true history of John Humble In his new book, ‘I’m Jack’.

Chaired by Peter Guttridge, and with a panel of experts from Northumbria University, Mark and company discussed the intricacies of the Humble incident and how it made an impact on the Yorkshire Ripper case. I was surprised to find that, as much as John Humble appalled me, I also felt some sympathy towards him. Maybe it’s because he was obsessed with Jack the Ripper, and his obsession was an outlet from his “real life”, which was sad and depressing. Friends of Humble would joke and call him Sherlock Holmes, as he expressed his fascination of such topics. His family however, never knew anything about his fascination with murder and crime investigations. Humble also had obvious mental issues. He was known before his crime conviction, to have thrown himself of the Wearmouth Bridge in Sunderland, but having failed in his suicide attempt.

Mark went in to detail about the research he had undertaken to find out information about Humble and his crime case, during which he had uncovered that many of the Wearside Jack rumours were not true; for example, despite rumours of him being brought up in Castletown, Sunderland, he was absolutely not brought up there. This caused a stir from one particular member of the audience, who struck her hand up after hearing this and loudly spoke “excuse me, excuse me, you are in fact wrong!” Despite Mark’s vigorous research, he had failed to find where Mark went to school, which was in fact in Castletown, according the woman in the audience, who was one of John Humble’s secondary school teachers. She said she remembered him so vividly, as you only have memories of students for a few short reasons. She spoke of his difficulty to listen to school rules, and how he would often have trouble wearing his uniform correctly.

I must admit, that this wasn’t the sort of event I was expecting. However, it still remained thoroughly interesting. I only wish he touched more on the details of his book rather than the research that went behind it. Certain details where left unclear. Nevertheless, Mark Blacklock was incredibly interesting and managed to hold the crowd with the research that went in to his book and his account of what made me him write about such an event. John Humble’s case struck a cord with Blacklock, and his book has now wowed the literature crowd.

ADDENDUM: We’ve spoken to Mark Blacklock since the event. He has since checked his notes and Humble actually went to Havelock Senior School in Ford. As Mark says, “this illustrates what I was saying about hoaxes; untruth proliferates and spreads. It also illustrates the basic human desire to be involved in these quasi-mythical events.”


Annie-Rose Mears is a Reviewer in Residence at Durham Book Festival.

Reviewers in Residence is a Cuckoo Young Writers programme ,which allows young critics to develop an in-depth relationship with a venue or art form, and take part in exclusively tailored writing masterclasses.