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Last Updated: Tuesday, 13 January, 2004, 23:45 GMT
Shipman's cell death investigated
Harold Shipman
Shipman signed his victims' death certificates
An investigation has been launched into the death of killer doctor Harold Shipman in his Wakefield Prison cell.

The government announced that prison ombudsman Stephen Shaw would head an inquiry, hours after the 57-year-old was found hanging by his bedsheets.

He was jailed for life in January 2000 for murdering 15 patients while working as a GP in Hyde, Greater Manchester.

An official report concluded he killed 215 people over a 23-year period in Hyde and Todmorden, West Yorkshire.

It said the final death toll from the UK's most prolific convicted serial killer could be as high as 260.

He was given 15 life sentences to run concurrently for the murders, and four years for forging a will.

A Prison Service source said that during a recorded telephone conversation with his wife, Primrose, the night before his death, Shipman showed no indication he was depressed or planning suicide.

Shipman was not on suicide watch at Wakefield, although he briefly had been at two other prisons earlier in his sentence.

It has also emerged Shipman applied for a visiting order on Tuesday for a social visit, thought to be from his wife, to visit on Wednesday on what would have been his birthday.

The application had not yet been considered when he died but Prison Service sources said there was "no reason" the visit would have been refused.

Mr Shaw, the new Prisons and Probation Ombudsman, told Radio 4's World at One: "What I will need to investigate is whether there were any warning signs at Wakefield in the case of Shipman and whether there were any slip-ups in terms of proper procedures.

He never showed any remorse or any guilt and that door is now closed to us
Jane Ashton-Hibbert
Granddaughter of Shipman victim

"If there were, I must reveal that, and if there weren't, then part of my function is to educate people in what are the realities of trying to run a prison in a reasonably decent and sensible way."

He was not due to take formal responsibility for inquiries into prison deaths until April.

A separate police and coroner inquiry will also be carried out.

Relatives of Shipman's victims are angry he never admitted his crimes and their questions may never be answered.

Jane Ashton-Hibbert, whose grandmother Hilda was unlawfully killed by Shipman, said she felt cheated that he had died.

She told BBC News: "This seems like an easy way out for him. He never showed any remorse or any guilt and that door is now closed to us."

People will never ever forget


Shipman's former friend Len Fallows

But Shipman's former friend Len Fallows told BBC News he was glad the killer was dead.

Mr Fallows raised money for Shipman's surgery, but as he did so the doctor was using his name to steal drugs, and also killed his best friend.

He said Shipman's death would "close the story", but added: "People will never ever forget."

'No suicide signs'

A Prison Service spokeswoman said Shipman used knotted bedsheets to hang himself from the window of his cell.

She added: "He was showing no signs whatsoever of pre-suicidal behaviour at all."

Shipman's suicide puts further pressure on the Prison Service, following a failed attempt by Soham murderer Ian Huntley, who took a drugs overdose while in prison in Milton Keynes last year.

Fred West was found hanged in his cell in Birmingham on New Year's Day 1995 while awaiting trial for multiple murders.

A prison

Marjorie Wallace, chief executive of mental health charity Sane, said Shipman's death exposed the prison psychiatric services as "threadbare".

Shipman's body has been taken to the Medico Legal Centre in Sheffield for formal identification and a post-mortem examination.

His widow and their sons have refused to comment.

Shipman's victims were mostly elderly women whom he killed with heroin injections.

He was finally tracked down after attempting to forge the 386,000 will of one of his victims, Kathleen Grundy, 81.

A public inquiry into the murders was chaired by High Court judge Dame Janet Smith.

Her first report in 2002 found the former GP had killed at least 215 patients and possibly as many as 260. Her final report is due out in the summer.




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Margaret Gilmore
"Harold Shipman was not a popular prisoner"



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