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Friday, October 22, 1999 Published at 15:19 GMT 16:19 UK


GP 'certified false cause of death'

Dr Shipman denies murdering 15 female patients

A fourth alleged victim of Harold Shipman, certified by him as having died from pneumonia, had not been suffering from the disease, his multiple murder trial has been told.

Home Office pathologist Dr John Rutherford told Preston Crown Court that Dr Shipman had also cited the lung disease emphysema on the death certificate of pensioner Joan Melia.

The Shipman Trial
However, a post-mortem examination revealed only "minimal" signs of the condition.

Dr Rutherford told the jury that in his opinion, Mrs Melia died from the toxic effects of morphine.

"There was no evidence to support the presence of pneumonia," he told the court.

The BBC's Kevin Bocquet: "Mr Steel's voice broke as he recalled touching her hand and finding it cold"
Mrs Melia, 73, died at her home in Hyde, Greater Manchester on 12 June 1998.

Dr John Grenville, an independent GP called by the prosecution as an expert witness, said that from her records Mrs Melia appeared to have been "fit and active".

Dr Shipman's notes after seeing her on the day of her death suggested a mild or moderate chest infection but not one that was severe.

[ image: Joan Melia: May have died from morphine poisoning]
Joan Melia: May have died from morphine poisoning
Dr Grenville said that as a GP he would have been "extremely surprised" if someone had been found dead in those circumstances.

"I would have suggested very strongly this lady should have been subjected to a post-mortem examination to find out how she died."

Dr Grenville said morphine was one of the last things a GP would prescribed for anyone with respiratory problems.

Mrs Melia's close friend of nearly 20 years, Derek Steele, told how he discovered her dead at her home in Hyde a few hours after she had kept an appointment at Dr Shipman's surgery.

[ image: Mrs Melia died hours after visiting Dr Shipman's surgery]
Mrs Melia died hours after visiting Dr Shipman's surgery
He rang the surgery after finding her sitting in a chair in her living room, and Dr Shipman arrived 10 to 15 minutes later.

"I don't know his exact words, but it was something like: 'Where is she?'," said Mr Steele.

"I was surprised. He seemed throughout very blasť and nonchalant.

"He took one look and said: 'It's too late...the tablets haven't had time to take effect.'

"He never touched her. I was quite surprised at that. His next words were: 'You'll have no trouble with the death certificate, I'll make one out'."

[ image: Dr Shipman:
Dr Shipman: "Took one look and said: 'It's too late'"
Mr Steele said Dr Shipman's visit lasted for a maximum of five minutes.

He said he persuaded Mrs Melia to see the doctor because she seemed "washed out and weary".

He dropped her at the doctor's surgery and returned later to find her sitting in the chemist next door waiting for a prescription for penicillin.

"I asked her what the doctor had said and she said she had pleurisy and pneumonia," said Mr Steele.

"I asked her why she wasn't going to hospital."

He dropped Mrs Melia at her home a few doors away from his own house and suggested she should have a sleep and he would call back later.

About four hours later he telephoned her without reply and went round to her home, where he found her dead.

Nicola Davies QC, defending, suggested to Mr Steele that because of his shock at what had happened he had not really noticed carefully what Dr Shipman had done in the house.

Mr Steele replied: "That's rubbish."

'Very poorly lady'

Mrs Melia's niece, Jean Pinder, said she spoke to Dr Shipman on the telephone the day after her aunt's death because she was so shocked by its suddenness.

He told her that Mrs Melia had been a very poorly lady and had died of lobar pneumonia aggravated by emphysema.

Mrs Pinder said: "I asked him if he had told her how poorly she was. He said he had told her to go home and go to bed.

"I asked him, if she was as ill as what he was saying, why he had not contacted the hospital and he said she could have died on the way to hospital. It was one of those things.

"He said he did what he thought was right at that particular time."

Mrs Melia was the fourth alleged victim of the GP about whom evidence has been put before the jury in the trial, now in its 10th day.

Dr Shipman, 53, of Roe Cross Green, Mottram, near Hyde, denies killing 15 women patients between March 1995 and June last year.

The trial was adjourned until Monday.

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