Mo Lea was an art student when she was attacked by the Yorkshire Ripper. Instead of telling anyone, she began to draw. The artist explains why returning to those disturbing images decades on has been like ‘opening a grave'
In October 1980 Mo Lea sat in a pub in Chapeltown, Leeds, planning her 21st birthday party. At the end of the evening, her friends went one way and she went the other “to catch the bus back to my little flat”. An arts student at Leeds University, she was working towards her final degree show. “Of course I took a short cut,” she says. “I remember thinking, I can see the lights of the main road ahead. It wasn't a long road. So off I trotted. And then he appeared.”
The man called out to her. “‘Hey! You all right?' I thought, he knows me. That's a relief!” When she reached him, she was surprised to find she didn't recognise him after all. He continued to chat but, thinking of her bus, Lea turned away. “I thought, that was weird. So I started to walk quickly. Thought, just get to the main road. Quick, quick, quick, quick. And I started to run. I suddenly felt this – oh my fear! – as his pace increased and then he ran and I could hear his footsteps.” She pounds her palm with her fist and her little studio room, at the front of her house in Bedford, fills with the sound of swift feet. “And then I just felt this massive blow to the top of my head.” She was running beside a low church wall when the blow fell and the wall “came straight up and hit me, and that was it. I blacked out.”