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The BBC's Kevin Bocquet in Manchester
"For the families the overriding question is how many people did Shipman kill"
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Solicitor for victims' families, Ann Alexander
"We're very confident that Dame Janet Smith and the inquiry team will get to the bottom of things"
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Wednesday, 20 June, 2001, 15:15 GMT 16:15 UK
Shipman 'could have been stopped'
Harold Shipman
Harold Shipman was convicted of killing 15 patients
Police, the Home Office and medical authorities all failed to stop Harold Shipman handling drugs despite a conviction for forging prescriptions, a public inquiry into the deaths of 459 of the GP's patients has heard.

Opening the inquiry, Caroline Swift QC said that Shipman had been fined for forging prescriptions after becoming addicted to the morphine-based painkiller pethidine.

But a committee of the General Medical Council (GMC) decided that no further action should be taken against him, a view that was also adopted by the Home Office.

Shipman is serving 15 life sentences in Frankland prison, County Durham, for killing 15 patients using injections of diamorphine, better known as heroin.

Phial of diamorphine
Shipman killed using diamorphine injections
When Shipman joined the Abraham Ormerod practice in Todmorden West Yorkshire, in 1975, he was regarded as "energetic and enthusiastic with a knowledge of modern medical activities", Miss Swift told the hearing.

But 18 months later he had to leave after admitting obtaining large quantities of pethidine for his own use.

At Halifax Magistrates Court in February 1976 he admitted eight charges involving forging prescriptions and abusing drugs and asked for another 74 to considered.

But within a year the GMC decided that no inquiry in the case should be held by its disciplinary committee.

Miss Swift added that following Shipman's conviction the home secretary had the power to take action prohibiting him from prescribing, administering or possessing such controlled drugs.

But she added: "In the event the Home Office officers who dealt with the case decided no further action should have been taken."

From the moment when the inquiry team was first assembled we were determined that wherever possible worried relatives should receive an answer to the question, 'Did Shipman kill my parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle or friend?

Caroline Swift QC
On 1 October 1977 Shipman was appointed to Donneybrook practice in Hyde, the hearing was told.

Miss Swift continued: "He was hardworking and became popular with his patients." In August 1992 Shipman left Donneybrook practice, taking with him several members of staff and his patient list, and for six years he flourished in his single-handed practice in Market Street, Hyde.

But suspicions were raised in March 1998 when some people in Hyde began to feel concerned about the number of Shipman's elderly patients dying in "curiously similar circumstances", Miss Swift said.

Dr Linda Reynolds, of the nearby Brook Surgery, alerted South Manchester coroner John Pollard and a preliminary investigation was carried out by Greater Manchester Police and the West Pennine Health Authority.

But it concluded there was no reason for concern.

And it was only in August 1998 when concerns were raised about the will of Kathleen Grundy that Shipman fell under suspicion again, the inquiry heard.

Death certificates

Shipman was convicted of 15 murders and one charge of forging Mrs Grundy's will on 31 January 2000.

Exactly a year later the Health Secretary, Alan Milburn, set up the inquiry.

Miss Swift told the hearing: "From the moment when the inquiry team was first assembled we were determined that, wherever possible, worried relatives should receive an answer to the question, 'Did Shipman kill my parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle or friend?'".

She told the hearing that the number of death certificates issued by Shipman in Todmorden and Hyde was twice that of any comparable doctor according to research by Professor Richard Baker of Leicester University

He moved unchecked through families, streets and bit by bit murdered the heart of the community

Richard Lissack QC
But the number of deaths at home - 236 more than comparable figures - was most likely to reflect the number about which there should be concern.

Miss Swift added that Shipman was an opportunist who, although he had been convicted of murdering women patients, could also have killed men.

"If any member of the public feels he or she has any further information which might assist in determining the truth of a death I would urge them to contact the inquiry team immediately," she concluded.

Richard Lissack QC, representing the Tameside Family Support Group, told the inquiry that Shipman had played God with the people of Hyde.

Relatives were "nervous of the revelation of the extent of Shipman's killing as he moved unchecked through families, streets and bit by bit murdered the heart of the community", Mr Lissack said.

The inquiry was adjourned until Thursday morning when pain relief expert Professor Henry McQuay will give evidence.

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20 Jun 01 | Health
Shipman inquiry's quest for truth
20 Jun 01 | Health
Extent of Shipman killings probed
20 Jun 01 | UK
Bereaved son seeks answers
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