British family physician gets 15 life prison sentences

`Wicked' doctor guilty of killing women patients, linked to 23 more deaths

February 01, 2000|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

LONDON -- A bespectacled 54-year-old family doctor with a gray beard, twinkling eyes and seemingly soothing manner was given 15 life sentences yesterday for murdering women patients in Britain's most notorious serial murder case of modern times.

Harold Shipman was guilty of "wicked, wicked crimes," Justice Thayne Forbes said and recommended the killer spend the rest of his life in prison after the jury ended six days of deliberations and returned its verdict at Preston Crown Court.

Police are investigating at least 23 more cases involving the doctor, who ran a popular one-man practice in Manchester. Media reports indicated he could have been responsible for scores more deaths.

Between March 1995 and June 1998, Shipman used lethal injections of diamorphine -- heroin -- to kill the 15 women who ranged in age from 49 to 81.

Shipman also received a four-year sentence for forging the will of his last victim -- an action that led to the discovery of his deadly trail.

"I have little doubt each of your victims smiled and thanked you as she submitted to your fearful administrations," Justice Forbes told Shipman.

Shipman had pleaded innocent to the charges and never expressed remorse or provided a motive for the killings. When the verdict was read, he showed no emotion, according to reports.

"He likes control, and ultimate control is over life and death," Detective Chief Inspector Mike Williams told Britain's Press Association.

The lead investigator in the case, Detective Superintendent Bernard Postles, told the Press Association, "It appears he just got the compulsion to kill. We looked at greed, we looked at revenge."

In 1998, police failed to find any evidence against Shipman after a local doctor was concerned that she and others were co-signing too many cremation certificates for Shipman's patients.

In the six months before he was arrested, Shipman killed three more patients, including Kathleen Grundy, 81, the former ceremonial mayor of Hyde, the Manchester neighborhood in which he worked. But Grundy's family became suspicious and alerted police after a forged will showed their mother had left her estate to Shipman.

There was no evidence of forgeries of other victims' wills.

The case will likely reverberate for years, as details of the case are fleshed out by a news media limited in what it could report while the trial took place.

Last night, the British Broadcasting Corp. aired a documentary, "Dr. Shipman: The Man Who Played God."

The case could have an impact on the National Health Service, the medical care system of which family doctors are a linchpin. Alan Milburn, Britain's health secretary, is due in Parliament today to make a statement on the verdict and initiate an inquiry.

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