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Thursday, 18 July, 2002, 23:20 GMT 00:20 UK
Shipman's path of destruction
Harold Shipman
Harold Shipman will remain in jail for life
Two years after Harold Shipman's conviction for 15 murders, officials have concluded that he murdered at least another 200. BBC News Online looks back on one of the most appalling criminal cases in British history.

Between the 1970s and the 1990s it is estimated that Shipman cut short the lives of between at least 215 of his patients.

He murdered middle aged and elderly men and women by injecting them with fatal doses of diamorphine, a medical term for heroin. Shipman preyed on the vulnerable, often choosing to kill old women living alone.

Shipman Inquiry
Phase 1: How many killings took place
Phase 2: Investigate how the authorities responded
Phase 3: Consider measures to safeguard patients

That a doctor could kill those whose health he was duty bound to preserve made the public question the faith they routinely placed in their own GPs.

The horrendous loss of life also raised grave questions about the checks placed on doctors running a practice by themselves.

The alarm bells sounded by the high death rates at his surgery and the large amounts of diamorphine he used went unheeded, leading relatives of victims to wonder how it was possible for one man to cause so much damage without raising suspicions.

All these issues are now subjects of the ongoing public inquiry.


The trail of destruction caused by the locally respected family doctor first began to emerge when he was arrested on 7 September 1998.

Harold Shipman's desk
Shipman's desk
Initially the married father of four was suspected of administering a fatal dose of diamorphine to 81-year-old Kathleen Grundy.

Police had been alerted to the prospect of foul play by the victim's daughter, Angela Woodruff. She suspected that the doctor had forged her mother's will to enable him to make off with 386,000.

But as soon as details of the killing began to emerge in the papers police investigators were shocked to find members of the public phoning them in large numbers.

People from across Hyde in Greater Manchester were calling to tell the police that their mothers, or other elderly relatives, had died in similar circumstances and that Dr Shipman had been their GP too.

Shipman's trial

The apparently greed-motivated murder of Kathleen Grundy had quickly ballooned into the investigation of hundreds of possible killings.

These deaths differed from the killing of Mrs Grundy in one regard. There was no apparent motive for any of them other than a desire to kill.
Kathleen Grundy
Kathleen Grundy's death raised the alarm

As the case developed, the police decided to press ahead with the prosecution of Shipman for just 15 murders.

The small number was chosen as the police were keen to pursue only those murders that stood a strong chance of being proved in court.

This decision, and the fact that Shipman has not been tried for any other killings, has left many families feeling that they have been denied justice.

Exhumations of several of Shipman's patients, revealed traces of diamorphine in their remains.

After a massive trial lasting three months Shipman was sentenced to 15 life sentences in 2000.

This month it was confirmed by the home secretary that he will never leave prison.

Why did he kill?

Throughout everything Shipman has denied carrying out the murders, and his wife, Primrose, showed him solid support throughout his trial.

The refusal of Shipman to talk has left people guessing at what motivated a doctor to murder so many.

One man who knew and worked with Shipman, the South Manchester coroner, John Pollard ventures his own theory.

"I think the only valid possible explanation for it is that he simply enjoyed viewing the process of dying and enjoyed the feeling of control over life and death."

Key stories

The human cost




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