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BMA 'jeopardised' Shipman trial
Shipman trial 'might have collapsed'
The British Medical Association made a mistake that could have allowed serial killer Harold Shipman to walk free, the judge in the trial of the disgraced doctor said.

The association, which represents the majority of UK doctors, sent out letters and e-mails to members containing details of Shipman's previous criminal convictions.

These were details which had been kept secret from the jury.

The briefing document, sent out before the end of the trial, even went to doctors in Hyde, where the murders took place.


We are absolutely horrified ourselves at the possibility that an error on our part could have prevented Harold Shipman from being brought to justice

British Medical Association
If the judge had believed that there was a real risk of the jury hearing about Shipman's criminal record, he would have had little choice but to discharge them, he said.

Now the BMA is to be reported for contempt of court to the Attorney General.

Mr Justice Forbes told Preston Crown Court on Tuesday: "I accept that there was no intention to prejudice the trial.

"However, having read the documents in question, I am satisfied that those documents were capable of prejudicing the fairness of the trial.

"It would have been almost impossible to resist an application to discharge the jury."

No re-trial

He added that there would have been no possibility of a re-trial - as few adults could have joined a fresh jury without already having an opinion on Shipman's guilt or innocence.

"The outrage and horror that the public would necessarily have felt cannot possibly be exaggerated."

A barrister acting for the BMA apologised and said that steps had been taken to prevent any such mistake happening again.

The BMA issued a statement, which said: "We are absolutely horrified ourselves at the possibility that an error on our part could have prevented Harold Shipman from being brought to justice.

"The persons to whom the document was circulated are responsible members of the medical profession and Mr Justice Forbes has accepted that there was no intention on the part of the BMA to interfere with the process of justice.

"However he has referred the matter to the Attorney General for a view on whether, nevertheless, the BMA is in contempt of court. We must now await the Attorney General's view but in the meantime have started an inquiry into how the error occurred and to ensure that no repetition could ever occur."

Shipman was convicted in 1976 of stealing drugs to feed his own habit.

The maximum sentence for contempt of court is a two years imprisonment.

Find out more about the Shipman murders

Trial and reaction

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Talking PointFORUM
Shipman case
The General Medical Council answered your questions
See also:

02 Feb 00 | UK
02 Feb 00 | UK
31 Jan 00 | Health
01 Feb 00 | Health
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