Doctors are supposed to care for their patients, look after and advise them. Unfortunately for those involved with Dr Harold Shipman, that was not the case.
Harold Fredrick Shipman, born January 14th 1946, Nottingham, was a doctor by profession and a convicted English serial killer.
Shipman was the second to four children and his working class parents were devout Methodists. Shipman was particularly close to his mother, who died of cancer when he was 17.
Shipman received a scholarship to medical school, and graduated from Leeds School of Medicine in 1970. In 1974 he took his first position as a general practitioner (GP) at the Abraham Ormerod Medical Centre in Todmorden, West Yorkshire.
In 1975 he was caught forging prescriptions of pethidine for his own use and was fined £600, briefly attending a drug rehabilitation clinic in York. After temporary work as a medical officer he became a GP at the Donneybrook Medical Centre in Hyde, Greater Manchester, in 1977.
Shipman continued working as a GP in Hyde throughout the 1980’s and founded his own surgery on Market Street in 1993, becoming a respected member of the community.
In March 1998, Dr. Linda Reynolds of the Brooke Surgery in Hyde expressed concerns to John Pollard, the coroner for the South Manchester District, about the high death rate among Shipman’s patients. In particular, she was concerned about the large number of cremation forms for elderly women and suspected Shipman was, either through negligence or intent, killing his patients.
The matter was brought to the attention of the police, who were unable to find sufficient evidence to bring charges. Between 17th April 1998, when the police abandoned the investigation, and Shipman’s eventual arrest, he killed three more people. His last victim was Kathleen Grundy, a former ceremonial Mayor of Hyde, who was found dead at her home on 24th June 1998. Shipman was the last person to see her alive, and later signed her death certificate, recording “old age” as cause of death.
Grundy’s daughter, lawyer Angela Woodruff, became concerned when solicitor Brian Burgess informed her that a will had been made, apparently by her mother, although there were doubts about its authenticity. The will excluded her and her children, but left £386,000 to Shipman. Burgess told Woodruff to report it, and went to the police, who began an investigation. Grundy’s body was exhumed, and when examined found to contain traces of diamorphine, often used for pain control in terminal cancer patients. Shipman was arrested on 7th September 1998, and was found to own a typewriter of the type used to make the forged will.
The police then investigated other deaths Shipman had certified, and created a list of 15 specimen cases to investigate. They discovered a pattern of his administering lethal overdoses of diamorphine, signing patients’ death certificates, and then forging medical records indicating they had been in poor health.
On 31st January 2000, after six days of deliberation, the jury found Shipman guilty of killing 15 patients by lethal injections of diamorphine, and forging the will of Kathleen Grundy. The trial judge sentenced him to 15 consecutive life sentences and recommended that he never be released.
Shipman consistently denied his guilt, disputing the scientific evidence against him. He never made any statements about his actions. Shipman’s wife Primrose was apparently in denial about his crimes as well.
The Shipman inquiry concluded Shipman was probably responsible for about 250 deaths and also suggested that he liked to use drugs recreationally.
On 11th February 2000, ten days after his conviction, the General Medical Council formally struck Shipman off its register. On the 13th January 2004, Shipman committed suicide by hanging himself in his cell at Wakefield prison in West Yorkshire.