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Tuesday, 22 February, 2000, 15:25 GMT
BMA escapes court over Shipman case

Shipman case could have collapsed

The British Medical Association (BMA) has escaped prosecution for contempt of court after it sent e-mails which could have caused the Shipman case to collapse.

The BMA was referred to the Attorney General's office by judge Mr Justice Forbes after he sentenced Dr Harold Shipman to life for murdering 15 of his female patients.

The Shipman murders
An e-mail containing details of Shipman's previous convictions for drug offences was sent to BMA members before the jury in the case at Preston Crown Court had found him guilty of murder.

The e-mails were circulated to GPs, including some in Hyde, Greater Manchester, where Shipman practised, offering guidance on handling possible media inquiries following the verdicts.

The Attorney General has taken into account all the circumstances and has concluded it's not appropriate to bring proceedings for contempt against the BMA
Attorney General's office
But the Attorney General's office said on Tuesday that it was clear the BMA had no intention of prejudicing the trial and a prosecution would be "inappropriate".

The BMA launched an internal inquiry and made a public apology after details emerged of the e-mails.

Mr Justice Forbes had said that it would have been "almost impossible" to resist an application to discharge the jury if details had leaked out before the verdicts were delivered.

Jury not told

The jury was not told of Shipman's previous convictions.

A retrial would have been unlikely, Mr Justice Forbes said, because it would have been impossible to find another jury who would not have known about the case.

A spokesman for the Attorney General's Office said: "We have looked at the matter closely. There was no intention to prejudice the trial on the part of the BMA.

"The Attorney General has taken into account all the circumstances and has concluded it's not appropriate to bring proceedings for contempt against the BMA."

A spokesman for the BMA welcomed the decision.

He said: "An independent review is presently under way by an outside organisation to ensure that such events do not occur again.

"The BMA regrets that these matters happened but it has taken steps to ensure that they do not re-occur."

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See also:
02 Feb 00 |  Health
BMA 'jeopardised' Shipman trial
31 Jan 00 |  Health
BMA calls for Shipman inquiry
10 Feb 00 |  Health
Shipman struck off

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