Serial Killer Doctor Murdered 215 Patients, Inquiry Finds
LONDON, England (AP) - Family doctor Harold Shipman, Britain's worst serial killer, murdered 215 of his patients in 23 years as a trusted small-town practitioner, a public inquiry reported Friday.
The inquiry's head, High Court Judge Dame Janet Smith, said there was also a suspicion Shipman had killed 45 more people between 1975 and 1998.
Smith said she had "no clear conclusion" about Shipman's motive. In only one case was there evidence that he killed for money, and there was "no suggestion of any form of sexual depravity," she said.
"It is possible that he was addicted to killing," the judge said.
Some victims' relatives said they didn't think they'd ever know what motivated him.
"It's the eternal question - Why? Why did he do it?" said Jane Ashton-Hibbert, whose 81-year-old grandmother was among the doctor's victims. "There's been far too many questions and not enough answers."
Shipman, 56, was convicted in January 2000 of murdering 15 of his patients - all elderly women - by injecting them with heroin. But police said then that he may have killed scores more. He is already serving 15 life sentences with no possibility of parole, and prosecutors have ruled out further trials.
Shipman maintained his innocence, and no motive has been established for the crimes of which he was convicted.
He was liked and admired by those who new him in Hyde, a small community in northern England.
"I personally can't reconcile the doctor that I knew that came to deliver my sister, looked after me when I had my daughter, with the doctor that I know now," Ashton-Hibbert said. "I think that's the hardest thing, ... the betrayal of trust."
Smith's yearlong inquiry has investigated the deaths of 494 of Shipman's patients between 1974 and 1998. It found that at least 215 of them were killed by Shipman, most of them by lethal injection.
"The true number is far greater and cannot be counted," Smith said. She said in 45 more cases there was strong but inconclusive evidence Shipman had killed the victims. Investigators found too little evidence to determine if the deaths of 38 others were natural or not.
In her interim report Friday, Smith said Shipman began his killing spree in 1975, a year after he entered practice. His victims, ranging in age from 41 to 93, included 171 women and 44 men.
"He betrayed their trust in a way and to an extent that I believe is unparalleled in history," Smith said.
For more than 20 years Shipman was a respected member of the community in Hyde, a working-class town of 22,000 just outside Manchester in northwest England. In 1992, he set up a practice in the town. Between then and 1998 he killed 143 people, Smith concluded in her 2,000-page report.
But his activities did not arouse suspicion until March 1998, when another doctor, who had been asked by Shipman to cosign some cremation certificates, expressed concern at the number of deaths. Police concluded there wasn't enough evidence to pursue charges.
The investigation was reopened months later after the daughter of an 81-year-old widow discovered that her mother apparently had changed her will to leave everything to Shipman. That led to exhumations and eventually to Shipman's trial and conviction.
A jury found that he deliberately injected heroin into 15 elderly women - many in good health - during routine checkups in their homes or at his office, falsifying computer records to create fictitious symptoms to explain their deaths.
Peter Wagstaff, whose mother was killed by Shipman, said he didn't think the doctor's motivation would ever come to light.
"I don't think I've met anybody yet that's ever said they hate him, because I don't think they understand the situation," Wagstaff told a news conference. "You can't make sense of it all, you can't come to the right terminology to say what you think of him."
The inquiry will now consider how Shipman was able to escape detection for so long. Smith said it would attempt to come up with improved safeguards "so as to ensure such a terrible betrayal of trust by a family doctor can never happen again."
Its final report is due late next year.