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Friday, 18 February, 2000, 13:47 GMT
Shipman - the legal minefield
Harold Shipman is to escape any further murder charges - why? BBC legal correspondent Joshua Rozenberg answers your questions.

The Director of Public Prosecutions, who heads the Crown Prosecution Service, listed a number of factors which influenced his decision:

  • It would be hard to find a jury which was not seriously affected by the publicity. It is unlikely a judge would allow further trials to take place against that background.
  • The previous trial was limited to 15 charges so as not to overburden the jury. Even that case took four months with the jury out for a week.
  • "A considerable majority" of the relatives spoken to by the police accept that a second trial cannot take place.
  • Harold Shipman has already been sentenced to life imprisonment. There is nothing more the criminal law can do to increase the sentence.
  • A further trial could delay a public inquiry.

    There was a lot of publicity about the case before and during Shipman's trial - and the judge simply told the jury to ignore it and deal with the evidence. Why could that not be done in a new trial?

    Shipman had not been convicted at that time. The jury did not know he was suspected of many other murders.

    If the police think Shipman has other charges to answer, why don't they charge him and let the courts sort out whether he can get a fair trial?

    Because the Crown Prosecution Service could use its powers to stop the case coming to court.

    Doesn't this effectively mean that justice cannot be done if a defendant is notorious enough to have had his case widely reported?

    No. We are talking here about a second trial for someone who has already been convicted. Justice has been done. Harold Shipman can expect to spend the rest of his life in prison.

    Do many convicted killers ever go back into court to face further charges - or is this rare?

    It certainly happens. The issue is whether the defendant is too notorious to have a fair trial.

    Are there any proposals to change the system to deal with what seems to be a growing problem of publicity prejudicing trials?

    That is a separate issue. Publicity which prejudices a trial can be punished as a contempt of court.

    Some families of these other alleged victims are very angry - is there anything to stop them bringing a private prosecution against Shipman?

    Yes. The Crown Prosecution Service could block it.

    Could the families sue him for damages rather than try to convict him in a criminal court?

    Yes. But unless they can get public support it will cost them a great deal of money. Shipman is not in a position to pay damages or costs. They will not be able to go ahead unless the police are willing to give them the supporting evidence.

  • Find out more about the Shipman murders

    Trial and reaction

    AUDIO VIDEO
    See also:

    18 Feb 00 | Health
    11 Feb 00 | Health
    09 Feb 00 | Health
    Links to more UK stories are at the foot of the page.


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