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Tuesday, 7 May, 2002, 14:55 GMT 15:55 UK
Police 'rejected' Shipman early warnings
Dame Janet Smith, chairman of the Shipman Inquiry
Dame Janet Smith has allowed cameras on a trial basis
The Harold Shipman inquiry has heard how police initially rejected concerns raised by doctors at a neighbouring practice over the high number of deaths among his patients.

The inquiry into the convicted serial killer has entered its second phase, with broadcasters allowed access to proceedings for the first time since it began.

Caroline Swift QC, leading counsel to the inquiry, said that in March 1998, the South Manchester coroner requested a police inquiry into the deaths after local doctors' contacted him.

Harold Shipman
Shipman's total murder count is unknown
However, Ms Swift told the inquiry a four-week investigation by Greater Manchester police concluded "there was no substance in the doctors concerns".

She added the police investigation was also hampered by a catalogue of errors.

As a family doctor in Hyde, Greater Manchester, Shipman murdered 15 of his women patients and is now serving a life sentence in prison.

Following his trial, questions were asked about the thoroughness with which the earlier police investigation had been carried out.

The second stage of the inquiry is investigating why this preliminary investigation found insufficient evidence to proceed against the GP.

In the ensuing five months before his eventual arrest, Shipman murdered at least three people.

During Tuesday's proceedings, Ms Swift said Dr Linda Reynolds spotted Dr Shipman's high death rates.

Errors

She told the coroner she and her four practice colleagues were signing fewer death certificates among them than Dr Shipman, who worked alone.

Ms Swift said the police inquiry was let down by various mistakes.

The head of the inquiry, Detective Inspector David Smith, kept no record of Shipman's activities during the four-week-long investigation.

Police were also under the mistaken opinion Dr Reynolds was not supported by her partners.

When the police went to the registry office for details of how many of Shipman's patients had died in the past six months, he was only initially told of just over half the cases.

He was told of 20 cases, which meant the deaths of some 11 patients were somehow not picked up on the registrar's search, said Ms Swift.

Broadcast

Det Insp Smith was also unaware of procedures surrounding cremations and did not ask to see records of cremation certificates - listing the circumstances around each death - dating back 15 years.

Miss Swift said: "It seems the only explanation was that Det Insp Smith was unaware of the forms and the potential source of information they presented.

"Det Insp Smith's apparent failure to inform himself about the nature of the cremation forms, the cremation system in particular, will be a matter that will have to be fully considered by the inquiry in due course.

"If Det Insp Smith was fully aware of the existence and potential significance of the forms but decided it was inappropriate to inspect them, then the inquiry would have to inspect that decision and the validity of it."

Shipman was eventually arrested in August 1998.

Inquiry chairwoman Dame Janet Smith has allowed recordings to be made for a trial period starting on Tuesday.

Phial of diamorphine
Shipman killed using diamorphine injections

The decision to allow broadcasters access to proceedings at Manchester Town Hall comes after American broadcaster CNN argued it was in the public interest.

All forms of photography are prohibited from courts in England and Wales but public inquiries are outside the scope of that law.

Viewers watching CNN, BBC, BSkyB, ITN and Granada will be able to watch delayed scenes from the start of the inquiry's second phase on Tuesday.

Pictures are not being transmitted live, only recorded excerpts, provided broadcasters adhere to strict guidelines laid down by Dame Janet.

The inquiry began in June 2001 and may last up to two years.

Its first phase looked into the deaths of around 500 of Shipman's former patients.

Shipman is currently serving life at Frankland Jail, Co Durham, after being convicted of 15 murders in January 2000.

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The BBC's Kevin Bocquet
"The enquiry were told about a police investigation"
See also:

12 Apr 02 | England
Shipman 'held pillow' over face
28 Mar 02 | Health
Doctors' death certificate errors
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