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Wednesday, 2 February, 2000, 16:00 GMT
Shipman Murders

Harold Shipman has been sentenced to life in prison after being convicted of the murders of 15 women.

The Shipman murders
Now the police are ready to press murder charges on another 23 cases against the doctor, with some sources saying he could have been responsible for more than 100 deaths.

The jury took nearly six days to consider the mountain of evidence before delivering unanimous verdicts. Once the case was over, it was revealed Shipman had eight previous convictions for obtaining class A drugs by deception.

But he carried on working, escaping disciplinary action from the General Medical Council, while the police stand accused of not doing enough when evidence mounted against Shipman.

What do you think? Could the murders have been prevented? Should there be tougher checks on doctors? Has your confidence in the medical profession been undermined?

Read your initial reaction to the sentencing of a serial killer.

We must all take great careful not condemn the medical profession as a whole.
Rev. Michael Arap-Chelogoy, United Kingdom
The nature and the magnitude of Dr Shipman's crime certainly leads all of us ask multitude of question, some of which will be answered and other will remain unanswered. However, we must all take great careful not condemn the medical profession as a whole. As the Medical association spokesman said this morning it was Shipman who was tried not every GP. I have faith, (of course not child like trust) in my GP and if I doubt what she (/he) says I would tell her (/him). The media does well to shape the public opinion in a case such as this, but great care must taken that we do not destroy the trust that is so necessary in every day practice of our professionals.
Rev. Michael Arap-Chelogoy, United Kingdom

My concern is that we don't lose faith in the medical profession as a result of Dr Shipman. The vast majority (all the rest) of GPs is fully deserving of their patients trust.
Gordon Lewis, UK

We think that he should rot in hell for all the misery he has caused. It's amazing how one person can kill so many. Doctors and professionals should not be able to commit such crimes as Shipman did. There should be stricter rules and regulations preventing this from happening again!
Kelly, Heather and Sarah, England

Let's have all details from all death certificates, issued over the last 20 years, entered into a computer and let them be analysed. We could then identify the frequency and cause of death per GP together with much other valuable data. I understand, albeit only from Television reports, that such analysis is not now done as a matter of routine.
John Brownlee, UK

We are all shocked and angry that a man in such a trusted position could turn on those who seek his help. And yet again I feel the medical profession is brought into question. One GP who wrote in to this debate describes how 'sick and ashamed' he was that one of his 'profession could have done such a horrible sequence of murders'. Obviously if it had been a teacher, policeman, a garden or computer programmer then it would have been more understandable. But who is in a better position to be a mass murderer than someone who has access to the right drugs and can then sign his victims death certificate himself. It seems that he was only caught by his greed for money by forging the will that lead to the investigation. If doctors where accountable to their customers maybe Shipman would have been caught long ago.
Alex Forbes, UK

Has the Home Secretary required the Chief Inspector of Constabulary to investigate the signal shortcomings in policing skills, by which Dr. Shipman's dozens of murders remained undetected and he left to pursue his activities? The doctor's future, potential victims must take little comfort in the knowledge that only by the suspicion and diligence of an 'amateur' detective, was Dr. Shipman at last brought to justice. Otherwise he'd still be doing to his patients what looks like serial slaying.
Bill Yoxall, England

I think it must be extremely difficult to uncover the deeds of a devious compulsive murderer like Dr Shipman who had the opportunity to cloak his activities behind his profession. I also think that those who clamour for the death penalty contain some of the Shipman psyche themselves.
Janet, UK

This is a shocking case that attacks the very root of the Hippocratic oath upon which our confidence in the medical profession depends. Confidence has been dented, but we need to remain calm and remember that this is unlikely to be repeated. Meanwhile, I hope this will put an end to talk about legalising euthanasia in this country.
Chris Klein, UK

I am puzzled as to why it is so easy to obtain practically any sort of information with relative speed and ease, yet those agencies in possession of the pieces of the Shipman jigsaw had their information so ring-fenced.
Ralph Warrington, Hyde, UK
Having lived all my life in Hyde, and having grown up in the immediate aftermath of the Borough's other evil event, the Moor's Murders, I can only hope that the town may recover more quickly from this tragedy. I was appalled to be aware of sightseers and ghouls visiting in order to see the locale of Brady and Hindley, as were many other residents, and occasionally this resentment, regrettably, overspilt into violence. In this information age of immediate and widespread dissemination of events, I can only hope that the community is allowed to mourn and recover without the spectator circus. Returning to the information age, I am puzzled as to why it is so easy to obtain practically any sort of information with relative speed and ease, yet those agencies in possession of the pieces of the Shipman jigsaw had their information so ring-fenced. I trust that the mooted Public Inquiry will be asking some searching questions in this regard to prevent a similar field and provide a framework of communications amongst other agencies in the country.
Ralph Warrington, Hyde, UK

Dr Shipman has an addictive personality - first drugs, then murder - which we need to find out more about. His crimes are intensified by the trust he has betrayed. I hope he is an anomaly in the medical profession and not the tip of a sinister iceberg. Perhaps he can find one shred of decency and admit who else he has killed, so that the families who are wondering whether their loved ones were his victims can have some peace.
Lisa Fryer, Namur, Belgium

I think the nature of Shipman being at a clinic that everybody knows or has gone to has made it personal for all of us.
Rich O'Grady, Hyde, Greater Manchester
I grew up in Hyde, Harold Shipman was the GP to some of my friends and sadly I knew one of the ladies that he was convicted for murdering - she used to play cards with myself and her grandson and make us a glass of warm orange.
I wonder how many more families that were under Dr Shipman could have been victims - it's very sad for the town. I think the nature of Shipman being at a clinic that everybody knows or has gone to has made it personal for all of us. I don't know what kind of punishment the man deserves, I just feel for the people that are hurt in all of this.
Rich O'Grady, Hyde, Greater Manchester

I find the fact that the Police took so long to realise just what was going on incredible. Hyde is a small town with a close-knit community - surely somebody must've smelled a rat? I am astonished that Harold Shipman got away with it for so long.
Bethan, UK

General practitioners like myself feel as angry and betrayed as everyone else. As Alan Milburn said, for tonight we should remember the families.
Dr John Hopkins, UK

Two things:

1. How was this possible to go on for so long with such impunity?
2. How many of the type are out there still undetected, unsuspected?
The government in general, the medical profession in particular must come up with checking mechanism. The sooner the better. My condolences to the bereaved families.
Assefa Chabo, USA

Unofficial euthanasia was practised at NHS hospitals in my fairly limited experience.
Unofficial euthanasia was practised at NHS hospitals in my fairly limited experience. This is often with the co-operation of doctors and nurses and usually calculated to kill the patient in the patient's interest. But it can be a worry because doctors specialising at hospices say that pain relief, properly prescribed, can alleviate almost all suffering.
A few cases of patient killing by doctors seem questionable. One case to mind was a young female specialist killing a young fairly long-term road traffic patient. It seemed to be more a case of alleviating staff inconvenience than mercy killing. After all: the patient was unconscious - though emaciated and often moaning - so we had no real evidence that he was wanting the mercy.
I believe that everything possible should be done to reasonably keep patients alive if for no other reason that killing them is against the ethos of caring professions.

Pray for the victims and their relatives. Also set up a system where individuals can sue for damages in large amounts. I am angered by all the double talk, wringing of hands and excuses after the fact by those in charge. Now is the time to enact laws that would severely curtail any...and I mean ANY wrongdoing by those in the medical profession.
Ralph Collard, United States of America

The society that breeds men like Shipman is the same society that you and I come from. It is a sad but true reflection of the depths a person can sink to if he or she chooses to. Through an isolated worldview, not seeing the unity of existence, Shipman acted out his evil intentions.
That some great divine mystery actually put this man here for death, misery, and us all to learn from in some ironic way is not easy to accept. If he had realised this more, would he have wielded the power of life and death so many times? Is this man sick, more evil than you and me, or a true reflection of the divine soul of mankind?
Laurence Murray, UK

I hope while he is in prison the inmates make his life a misery. Hanging isn't the answer, he needs to be publicly shamed. Not physically hurt but understand the totally hatred of the British public.
Stefan Burt, UK

The GMC is from experience in some tacky situations within the NHS a toothless poodle, protecting rather than investigating. The poor old health authority is of course blameless, higher priorities such as corporate image, well worded ambiguous reports and not least nice premises for themselves occupy all of their time. Shipman is of course to blame but how come it wasn't seen before?
Bob, UK

You can rely on the government to employ a psychopathic murderer to be YOUR GP.
A J Bacsich, UK

Should not the Americans on the net clamouring for the death penalty mind their own business?
Bill Turner, UK
Should not the Americans on the net clamouring for the death penalty mind their own business? Our murder rate here is somewhat lower methinks! Quite how another death on top of all these would be "just" I don't know - and isn't it right that from where he is now, Harold Shipman must spend the rest of his days contemplating his evil acts?
This dreadful, unprecedented case should be more seriously reflected upon before we hanker after quick and easy populist solutions, though it does seem the failure of the initial police investigation to stop Shipman murdering yet more people merits further enquiry.
Lastly, the GP who condemns the lawyers who defended Shipman should be ashamed, in a democracy anyone, yes anyone, is entitled to the best defence available to them.
Bill Turner, UK

This case might have severe implications for terminally ill patients where doctors in future might think twice prior to prescribing opiates as pain relieving drugs for fear that they might" bump them off" too quickly.
Many opiates such as morphine whilst having pain relieving properties also drastically reduce the respiratory rate to the point of death in large quantities of the drug. I hope this doesn't mean that dying patients will be left in excruciating pain.
Carmel (Nurse), Ireland

He may be sick, suffering from some mental disorder, he may have been on a religious crusade, or he may have been guilty of mercy killings, commonly called euthanasia.
Terry Hayden, UK
So, 15 murders, or was it 41, or was it over 100? We need to ask many more questions, such as the validity of a medical lawyer in a criminal case. We need to understand more about the man who has been accused of committing these horrific crimes. If indeed they are horrific. Who are we to judge?
He may be sick, suffering from some mental disorder, he may have been on a religious crusade, or he may have been guilty of mercy killings, commonly called euthanasia. Although on the face of it he is evil and wicked, we need to step back from tabloid journalism and take a more detailed look at what we all hope is not the worst crime in the UK for over 100 years.
Terry Hayden, UK

There's no such thing as a motiveless murder...he did it for the power...he did it because he could.
Mr Ritchie, Scotland

For this maelstrom should come a quiet time of sober reflection and appreciation of those who are most under the scrutiny of the press. This means victims' families, friends and our communities; it is those who are left behind that must make sense of the situation.
There are two ways to make sense: to apply consistent pressure on the GMC to weed out the bad apples [sicShipman1976] and to show sensitivity to protect the patient[s] when dealing with such cases.
I hope to express that, in the glaring publicity of this macabre case, are some very private individuals whose right to that privacy should be respected.
Kate Allison, UK

Why is there surprise and consternation from the GMC? Doctors come from the same society as lawyers, policemen, bankers, local government officers, teachers, dustmen, brickies, taxi-drivers and the rest.
None of us are perfect. There does need to be an awareness that the medical profession are not miracle workers and have the same mystique as the shaman's and witch doctors of the past. Because they are human they will have the same frailties as the rest of society. Some regulation is needed regarding Single GP's accountability. GPs should be salaried.
Jane Robinson, England

How one lone, determined, intelligent, apparently motiveless murderer was actually ever caught would I feel be a fairer question. This is a man who was able to convincingly lie to close working colleagues, keep cool while under the intense scrutiny of the media. There were many groups who he successfully duped. I do not think that the disbanding of the police force and increasing the research staff of the Panorama team would prevent any such reoccurrence.
John Stiles, England

For far too long doctors have been hailed as icons with no accountability.
Penny Mellor, UK
For far too long doctors have been hailed as icons with no accountability. The phrase used by a police officer who investigated Shipman initially demonstrates this "An upstanding member of the community" therefore the burden of evidence has to be higher? Why?
This case demonstrates the complete failure of the system put in place to protect patients. Time and time again doctors get away with crimes that no other member of the community would. The GMC is self-serving and needs to be abolished. This particular barrel is overloaded with rotting apples.
Penny Mellor, UK

As with so many of these serial offenders, it is the errors of omission that allow perpetrators to go undetected, especially those who actively seek out responsibility as a cover for their criminality. The medical profession needs external supervision, the doctor doesn't always know best, as this tragedy proves.
Dr Doreen Branch, UK

Well, the baffling question dominating people's astonished minds appears to be "why". Among the proposed answers to this are money, enjoyment, power + control, but no-one has suggested that maybe he wanted to be the UK's most prolific serial killer, for many interesting reasons, fame, recognition + notoriety being one which he certainly has now, which he did not have before. He has been called 'God', I am sure he IS now to a lot of different people for so many different reasons.
Philip G. Davis, UK

As someone who grew up very near Dr Shipman and I have family members who knew his victims, the scale of these heinous crimes this man has committed can only barely be registered tonight. Yet some of the other comments, especially coming from the States, do surprise me.
We have a prison population of 65,800 in this country. Dr Shipman will join the other 26 prisoners whose crimes have been so horrendous - that they will remain in prison until they die. This is British justice.
The death penalty will never bring Dr Shipman's victims back. Nor will it stop another evil madman from doing such a terrible thing. But our justice system is one of the finest in the world.
Darren, UK

Why the general medical council did not strike him off after a drug conviction? If a working class person is convicted in court for possession she/he has a record and is very often sacked. Is it because doctors are 'respectable'? I think the GMC should search their souls and consider how many lives would be saved if they had acted properly and consistently with the rest of the population.
Jenny Kennedy, Wales

I am a GP. I am sick and ashamed that one of my profession could have done such a horrible sequence of murders. There can be no forgiveness. However, beware of vested interest groups who want to use this bizarre, unique and dreadful case opportunistically to increase state control on the medical profession. And by the way, what about the lawyers who struggled to get him off the hook?
Stephen Hayes, England

Far from being "out in 10 years", as one of your correspondents has put it, it is unlikely that he'll ever be released. Even if we still had hanging he would still have gone on to kill his victims. He now has the rest of his life to reflect on what he did. What more could you want?
Nigel Baldwin, United Kingdom

The Hippocratic oath translates as "do not lose your patient, whether by killing or by curing", but I hope there are not too many more out there finding a better living by adopting wills, or just sheer incompetence.
David de Vere Webb, UK

Anita Ethridge of the USA has clearly contradicted herself. She believes "no man" should have the right to take another's life, yet she extols the virtues of the death penalty. Hello?
Hillary Harrow, USA

Shipman has committed truly wicked acts but we should not allow the emotive effects of a particular case to supersede our rationality.
David, UK
Dr Shipman has been found guilty of 15 heinous murders, and deserves to be punished with the utmost severity. But to me this means spending the rest of his life in prison. We should never, ever reintroduce the death penalty - what would happen if someone were hanged and found years later to be innocent? The British justice system would have had their blood on its hands. In the case of the Guilford Four, the judge at the original trial lamented the fact that the suspects were not charged with treason, and said he would not have hesitated to pass the death sentence on them had they been so charged. Years later, the Four were found to be innocent. Harold Shipman has committed truly wicked acts, but we should not allow the emotive effects of a particular case to supersede our rationality or to jeopardise the human rights of future defendants.
David, UK

There is a serious aspect to this that has not been sufficiently considered. If British law is brought into line with continental practice, we will likely find ourselves moving in the direction of legal euthanasia, along the lines of the Netherlands, where about fifty percent of patients who are euthanized never give formal consent. How exactly would we deal with a doctor who claimed to be delivering euthanasia to his patients, or who simply injected them with morphine and reported nothing?
Jon Livesey, USA

I think we can do without the lectures on crime and punishment from the US. I notice that the Governor of Illinois has just suspended the death penalty after he realised that more men had been pardoned on death row after being found innocent than were actually executed. Mass murderers serve life imprisonment in the UK and are certainly not released after only 10 years. The only thing this case demonstrates is the lack of accountability of the medical profession and the continuing incompetence of the police.
Lyndon Rosser, Wales

I am always surprised that the BBC thinks we want to wallow in the details of a murderer and his trial to the extent that they change the programme schedules to give detailed coverage of him and his trial.
John Davies, UK

It's nice to see the old virtues of compassion and forgiveness on display once again - yet again, the mob is out for blood. Can't we do our status as an allegedly civilised people justice by considering that maybe he's more in need of a great deal of help than needing to be put to death? Treating barbarity with further barbarity benefits nobody. This is the year 2000, folks, not the Dark Ages.
Mike Knell, Ireland

Why have you not asked the Regional Health Authority why they have allowed a single-handed doctor practice to continue despite DHSS guide lines to the contrary? Maybe the Regional Chair Prof Breckenridge should be asked 'If the rules or guidelines had been applied would Dr Shipman have been able to carry out the acts that he did? These acts seem to have started in earnest after her left his partners and moved across the road into a practice unsupervised by his peers.
Calver, UK

This man knew what he was doing and the inevitable ramifications of his actions, yet he went and deprived twenty-three valuable human beings of their lives. Twenty-three - that is almost enough to declare war on the man. Justice has equivocally been carried out.
Peter Crawford-Bolton, UK in US

If ever the case for the restoration of capital punishment was made then this is it. A series of murders of the most vulnerable and in at least one case for material gain. Of course Shipman should not be hanged but executed by lethal injection as "poetic justice".
Steve Foley, England

I strongly disagree with bringing back capital punishment thirty years after it was abolished in Britain. Shipman may have been found guilty in this instance, but it's the classic "what if" scenario with every court case there is - and the relatives of the murderer would suffer besides the loved ones of the murderer's victims, as well as the possibility of an innocent life being taken when not guilty. Remember Derek Bentley?
Andy, UK

To me he was the doctor who cared for my sister throughout her pregnancy with my niece.
Kirsty MacDonald, UK
As a member of the community (although currently at Sheffield University) which has been shocked and traumatised by the revelations I can only say that I am disgusted with Greater Manchester Police for their lack of vigilance. All I ask now is that the community of Hyde should not be turned into a media circus and that the community should be allowed to come to terms with the results of the trial.
Shipman had the trust of his patients. How are any of the people who were his patients be able to trust their GP again? I remember when it first came to light about the death of Kathleen Grundy. Shipman had so much influence and respect amongst his patients that his surgery was full of cards and flowers from well-wishers who believed that he was the victim of a bitter family's campaign to contest him of the will. Nobody foresaw what this would turn into. To me he was the doctor who cared for my sister throughout her pregnancy with my niece. It could be argued that the evidence was condemning. For most involved in the trial, either directly or indirectly the realisation of what has actually happened in Hyde will only hit home now that the verdict has been read.
Kirsty MacDonald, UK

Why did Doctor Shipmans' colleagues not pick up on the fact that so much pethedine and morphine was being requested at a much earlier stage, they are professionals, surely the top person must have noticed that something was wrong? We are talking deaths here on a massive scale, is Shipman solely responsible? I am totally mystified how so many professionals can have let Shipman slip through the net to carry on to commit so many murders.
Jane Watkins, England

Not only should he never be released but he should not be treated as a human being as he has lost the right to it - I think he should live in solitary confinement
Jason, UK

It is about time that GP's should not be allowed to work in isolation. They can be a monitor for each other, especially with the workloads that they have to tolerate, and long hours. Certainly any GP with a criminal record especially for drug abuse of this nature should be struck off.
Georgina, UK

Given that he, Dr Shipman, was convicted of theft (the painkillers he was addicted to) and thus a drug user, how then can the General Medical Council see him fit to continue as a GP? How many other professions would a junkie and thief be given such an important job? This must surely be the worst example of total complacency in the General Medical Council. How many tragic examples must there be before it is realised that the General Medical Council has a very little respect for the general public?
Mark Kenny, Scotland

I, like many of my colleagues feel nothing but horror and complete betrayal by Dr Shipman. I must go out tonight and try to do my work with the knowledge that the doctor-patient relationship will never be the same again.
Dr James Cave, GP, UK

As it has been proven time and time again, "bring back the death penalty" for evil killers like this person. And why should we pay for his keep in prison, how's that fair!
Sue Pedlow, England

I am appalled at the way a doctor could be so callous and inhuman as he thought the elderly patients were a nuisance to him. I feel especially the elderly will be very weary to call out their GP in the future.
Sandra Dobbie, England

How [do] we bring the British Medical Council, the Health Authorities, the police and the government to task for aiding and abetting his foul crimes?
Mary Walker, England
As Shipman languishes in jail for the rest of his days, what we need to consider is how we bring the British Medical Council, the Health Authorities, the police and the government to task for aiding and abetting his foul crimes, no matter how inadvertently. We must ask how no Coroner should register the unacceptable level of deaths attributed to this GP, never mind the fact that the bulk of his 'patients' died in an upright position. We must also question why serious alarms raised by doctors, others in authority and relatives went unheeded. Tonight on superb TV coverage I have heard a Health Authority 'spokesperson' claim they are there to investigate matters of health - not murder. I have seen a representative of the Manchester Police shrug his shoulders and deny knowledge that they received open invitations to examine at least one of Shipman's victims in the morgue. An opportunity they turned down. We need to do something drastic in this land of ours to protect our rights.
Mary Walker, England

It seems to me that from what has been said about Dr Shipman, he is clearly a control freak. By murdering these elderly women - which by the way seems inextricably linked to the death of his own mother (who received morphine when she was dying of cancer) and his lack of grieving, he seemed to be trying to offset his morbid anxiety of lack of control in his mother's death by controlling the deaths of these elderly women. He seems unable to cope with anxiety and the feelings that this might bring up. Could killing these patients have been a way of allaying that anxiety and re-asserting control? There is definitely a psychological explanation for his motives, which do not seem to be fully conscious. In this respect I don't think that describing him as simply evil gets close to the truth.
Zeta Byrne, London, UK

Shipman is mentally ill. Hanging him will not bring anyone back. So why all the calls for the death penalty? The fear of the Death Penalty would not have stopped this man or any other person like him.
Stephen, Switzerland

What an evil, evil man. If ever a case for capital punishment existed this surely must be one and I am totally opposed to capital punishment. This so-called man has tarnished the good name of every decent GP in this country and does not deserve the British taxpayers board & lodgings for the rest of his life. Our thoughts must be with the poor relatives of this devil's victims.
Geoff Clarkson, England

Another vile crime, another round of baying for blood. Personally, I do not believe that justice is served by killing someone for killing someone. That's just revenge.
Ruana, UK

What worries many people is whether this could happen again, and how we can trust our doctors. We should not judge all doctors by the vile practices of this one individual.
Marion Forrest, England

i) He won't be allowed to make money
ii) He won't ever be released.
And yes I would pull the switch myself. Mystifying how it took 6 days to find him guilty.
Barry, UK

I don't think it is true that a Doctor would kill his patient. If so why did he choose to be a doctor? If he wants to be a murderer, he can do this anytime. There might be something mysterious involved in. Let the doctor himself speak the truth.
Sunrise, China

Those baying for blood and vengeance really concern me. To gain pleasure from others' suffering is a sign of sickness. Both on the part of Shipman, and on those who would wish him dead.
John, UK

This doctor is something like Dr. Kevorkian here in the states. Kervorkian's "patients" would contact him to end their lives, as they supposedly had terminal illnesses. I believe there is only one source that says whether we live or die. NO MAN should have that right. Here in the States, some of us believe in the death penalty. I think Britain needs to bring back some kind of punishment for people like Dr Shipman. Why should be allowed to live, although in prison, and his victims have no more life? Punishment should fit the crime.
Anita Ethridge, USA

The only thing that was shaken was my confidence in the British justice system, not the medical profession. Now he gets to spend the rest of his life being fed, clothed, and housed at the expense of his victims and other taxpayers. And best of all, he'll probably sell his story to a tabloid for a small fortune, which he will use to make a further mockery of the courts.
Thomas Byrne, USA

Sorry, I'm not satisfied with this pathetic punishment. He should be hanged.
Grant Runteur, UK

Is there really any point in the police pressing more charges against this monster? Any further sentence he received would no doubt run concurrently with the 15 he has to serve already.
Steve Tiffey, UK

15 life sentences certainly sounds like a heavy sentence, but is it? They are to run concurrently, rather than consecutively, so it is extremely likely that this so-called doctor will be freed within about 10 years . Isn't it about time we reintroduced capital punishment for crimes of this magnitude?
Andrew Robert Slicker, UK

I think that laws in medical profession should be more strict because a great deal of faith and sentiments go along with it of the general public. People regard doctors as the ultimate for saving life and therefore a doctor needs to be more truthful and trustworthy towards its profession.
Rajesh K Sinha, USA

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See also:
31 Jan 00 |  UK
Shipman jailed for 15 murders
31 Jan 00 |  The Shipman files
Profile of a killer doctor
31 Jan 00 |  The Shipman files
How many did Shipman kill?

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