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The Shipman files Monday, 31 January, 2000, 17:15 GMT
Shipman in the dock
The doctor was caught out in the witness box
The BBC correspondent Kevin Bocquet has reported on the Shipman trial since it began in October 1998. Here he gives his impressions of the man he has observed in court for the past three and a half months.


It seems a strange thing to say of a man who has just been confirmed as Britain's most prolific serial killer, but he wasn't very frightening.

The Shipman murders
Certainly not terrifying in the way that Fred and Rose West were, and the Yorkshire Ripper, the Moors Murderers, and all those other killers whose notoriety is such that the tabloids call them monsters.

Compared to them, Shipman seemed pathetic, a small, colourless man, with grey close-cropped hair and beard, and an unhealthy prison pallor. During the three and a half months of his trial, he seemed to disintegrate.

To start with, back in October, he had been confident, even a little cocky. He had stepped purposefully into the dock, apparently eager for the long-awaited chance to argue his case.

There was a briskness about him, a quickness of action, and in those early weeks, he followed the evidence closely, always leafing through his files, listening carefully to the witnesses, and making pages of notes.

Watching him then, it was easy to understand why after his arrest, when it was already widely known in Hyde that he was suspected of mass murder, the walls of his surgery carried dozens of Good Luck cards. Until well into the trial, many of his patients were convinced Shipman was innocent, and sure the police had got it wrong.

No real defence
The doctor received many 'good luck' cards from his patients at the start of the trial
The turning point came in late November, when Shipman went into the witness box. By then the prosecution had completed its case, which seemed solid.

But it quickly became clear that Shipman had no real defence, other than to deny each allegation, in the hope, and - such was his arrogance - the expectation, that he would be believed, for no better reason than that he was a doctor. It didn't work.

Time and again under cross-examination, Shipman was caught out, his lies revealed, and the inconsistencies in his evidence exposed. His confidence evaporated, he became surly, resentful and uncooperative. But still he would look pleadingly at the jury, desperate to be believed, and apparently astonished that his word, as a doctor, could be doubted.

Family torment
Shipman's wife Primrose attended the trial every day
Witnessing the slow disintegration of Shipman's personality was his family. His wife Primrose attended every day of the trial, usually with their daughter, or one of their three sons. They rarely betrayed their feelings, even as the full enormity of Shipman's crimes was exposed. It is impossible to imagine what torment they must have experienced, discovering that the husband and father of more than 30 years was a serial killer.

In the closing days of the trial, they sat a few feet from the relatives of the women murdered by Shipman - two groups of people, all victims of one warped mentality.

Almost certainly Shipman has disappeared forever behind the prison wall. He had three great crises in his life, each one involving painkillers. As a teenager, he witnessed the slow, agonising death from cancer of his mother. As a young doctor, he lost his job, and almost his career, through his addiction to the morphine-based painkiller Pethidine. And then he turned to murder.

Unsuspecting victims

Perhaps the reason he did not inspire more fear among those in the courtroom was that he never terrorised his victims. It was one of the strangest things about this case, the fact that almost certainly, none of the women knew she was being killed. They all appeared to have died peacefully, indicating that Shipman must have injected them on a pretext, and that they quietly slipped away.

For most murderers, it is important that the victim should realise what is happening. It reinforces the killer's feeling of power. But Shipman was never really involved with his victims. He appeared to choose them at random, often for no better reason than that the opportunity to murder would present itself, and he would take advantage.

That's the real tragedy. However many victims there were, and the final total could be over a hundred, they were bit players in a drama which for the most part was being played out inside the tortured mind of Harold Frederick Shipman.

Find out more about the Shipman murders

Trial and reaction

AUDIO VIDEO
See also:

31 Jan 00 | The Shipman files
31 Jan 00 | The Shipman files
31 Jan 00 | The Shipman files
31 Jan 00 | The Shipman files
31 Jan 00 | The Shipman files
31 Jan 00 | The Shipman files
31 Jan 00 | The Shipman files
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