Is Harold Shipman Really the ‘Worst’ Killer in British History?

Harold Shipman Wins a ‘Gerry Adams’ Look-Alike Contest

Most documentaries about ‘Dr’ Harold Shipman contain characters whose pseudo-intellectualism comes across very much like the average psychic or ghost-hunter, whilst all the retired police officers look (and sound) like Bernard Manning. The police failed to do their job properly and more people (allegedly) died, and yet despite this incompetence at the public expense, when a coherent case was finally hammered-out, exactly the same police presented themselves as ‘saviours’ of exactly the same public. What was Harold Shipman up to? Why did he continue to deny his guilt up to his suicide in 2004? The police, press and myriad so-called experts would have us believe that Harold Shipman was a deadly murderer who was so cunning and confident that he hid beneath the radar, until one day he was utterly stupid and made so many mistakes he looked like an extra from the Keystone Cops. Of course, numerous documentaries are full of moaning police officers who resent Harold Shipman – not for his supposed maniacal killing – but rather because his antics that created the conditions whereby the police had to get off their arses and actually do some work!  So, which is it – criminal mastermind, or hapless amateur?  

Harold Ship Wins a ‘Stephen Hawkins’ Look-Alike Contest

Like Sonny Liston – ‘Dr’ Harold Shipman possessed a lethal jab. He was found guilty of just ‘15’ murders and one proven case of fraud in 1999 – and that’s it. The problem is that if he is guilty of deliberately murdering elderly women for ‘greed’, then over his career the numbers of killed could top ‘300’ or even more. All the arguments for exact numbers are merely statistical at this stage, as he hid his tracks very well, with many killings occurring decades ago before computer records and when paper records were routinely ‘purged’ when decreed as being no longer of any use. The medical profession really had no clue that this was happening, or even that it could happen. Of course, middle-class doctors have killed patients before in the UK – with some dancing their way through Court and waving to the Jury whilst being declared ‘Not Guilty’!  Harold Shipman was working-class and had worked his way up through the ‘free’ education system that used to exist in the UK until 1988. When young he was physically robust and very clever. His working-class mannerisms are continuously used against him in the documentaries purporting to cover his life. Regardless of his guilt, the message is that a working-class person shouldn’t have been allowed to rise to this level of power and responsibility within British society. It is an implied fact that part of his criminality is presented as stemming from his working-class background.  

Harold Shipman Wins ‘Sigmund Freud’ Look-Alike Contest

Nevertheless, none of these observations explain what he thought he was doing. His suicide on the eve of his 58th birthday ensured that his partner received his NHS pension consisting of a one-off £100,000 pay-out, and a further £10,000 per year!  Even so, none of his years of offending could have been a preparation for this final exit – although the sheer silliness of the forged Will (comical in its naivety) might have been a way for him to get caught and end his life when the situation presented itself. As matters stand, his wife has always insisted that her husband was innocent and that he did no wrong. Could the case against him be fake? Numerous psychologists have commented that it is highly unusual for a mass killer to continue to deny his or her guilt after being convicted and imprisoned. If a government wanted to turn a population against the NHS (provided free at the point of use), and prepare that population for the abolition of the NHS (and its replacement with a US-style private health story), what better way is there, than to blame an upstart working-class doctor for committing all kinds of ‘medicalised’ crimes that would not happen in the much smaller private health industry. In this model, Socialised medicine equals ‘criminality’, whilst private health equals ‘safety’ and ‘security’.  

Harold Shipman – My Left Foot

Is Harold Shipman really the worst serial killer in the UK? For sake of argument, if Harold Shipman’s body-count is as high as 350, how does this compare to the number of disabled, elderly and vulnerable British people killed by the Tories and LibDems since 2010? In 2016, following a thorough investigation into the Coalition ‘Austerity’ pogrom, the United Nations (UN) found the UK Government ‘Guilty’ of Crimes Against Humanity for the deaths of around 120,000 – killed through a combination of a sudden withdrawal of NHS treatments (through privatisation), Benefits cuts, cuts in Social Services and the ending of Social Housing, etc. Not only has the British Welfare State been dismantled, but the Services once provided free at the point of use (paid for through collective taxation), are now in the hands of privateers with the elderly and disabled now ‘forced’ to pay again for what amounts to second and third-rate private-sector services. Although this is illegal, most of the people subject to it, are victims of the ‘tyranny’ of Social Services and do not possess the finance or know-how to put a stop it. As the Tories have continued to kill the British people through NHS-cuts, the current number of preventable deaths stands at around 130,000 victims, and this does not include the 40,000-plus British people who have died of Covid19 due to the Tory mishandling of this crisis! It is clear from these statistics that the Tories (and LibDems) have not only murdered far more innocent people in number than those alleged by Harold Shipman – but although it is known what they have done – the British Establishment continues the killing! 

7 comments

  1. I think the argument for Harold Shipman’s innocence is worth considering, for all sorts of reasons. You ask: “Could the case against him be fake?” I think it might have been and the notion is not as far-fetched as it first seems. It does appear he was guilty of fraud, but it does not follow that he was a murderer. Yours is the only article I can find anywhere – so far – that attempts the beginnings of a go at it (other than press reports of the protestations of Shipman himself and his wife).

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    1. Dear Tom – thank you for your interesting and thoughtful post! There is something in the back of my mind that bothers me about this case. It is far too ‘general’ and ‘circumspect’ – as if it is a horrific plot written in a book of fiction! A fabricated set of very unlikely circumstances designed to ‘scare’ the average person with no anchorage to reality. I working-class man who came up through the institutions of British Socialism is ‘exposed’ as being deficient and ‘evil’ – all obvious middle-class troupes used when demonising the working-class! Furthermore, I see no real evidence other than speculation and hearsay. The ‘connections’ between the so-called ‘facts’ do not make any logical sense. It all reads like a script telling us ‘how’ to think!

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      1. Adrian,

        We may be on the same page. Have you read Baudrillard’s ‘The Gulf War Did Not Take Place’?

        Initially I accepted the Shipman scandal at face value. I then became suspicious as the media coverage sensationalised it all (a red flag is that they subjected him to trial by media prior to him even having been charged), and in the process weaknesses in the case against him were exposed.

        My suspicions deepened with the release of the Report of the Shipman Inquiry. I then carried out some research of my own and came to the understanding that the conviction of Harold Shipman as a medical serial killer was by no means as open-and-shut as it seemed and rested on the science of toxicology and certain suspicious aspects of his practice record-keeping. Shipman was a very popular doctor in Hyde – lots of testimonials can be found from locals who enjoyed the relationship with him as their GP and trusted him.

        Regarding his background, if he was working class (in the non-Marxist, sociological sense of that expression) then he may have felt out of place, even allowing for him being part of the grammar school/university expansion generation. One important factor could have been that although he was sporty and fairly intelligent, he was (surprisingly) not very academic by the standards of most who attend medical school. His scholastic performance (O-level and A-level) was mediocre and he had to resit his A-levels. He was also left-handed and (it is said) dyslexic. Consider those points and possible implications for his self-image, self-confidence, relations with other doctors. I don’t have my sources to hand at the moment, but I also recall discovering that he almost dropped out of Leeds Medical School.

        He was unusual in that he pursued solo practice as a GP after being in a partnership didn’t seem to agree with him. Some see that as a further point of suspicion – lack of supervision, and so on – though these same people never stop to consider that, according to Dame Janet Smith, he was supposedly murdering people, young and old, left and right and centre, while a GP partner, and before that, a hospital doctor, presumably under clinical and managerial supervision.

        I could on – I could write a book about it – but we’ll leave it there. I found your blog about a year or so ago because of the Shipman case. I was googling, ‘Is Harold Shipman innocent?’

        So far, you and I are the only people on the internet who think he might be – apart from Primrose Shipman. We’re a select club!

        Thanks,
        Tom

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      2. Dear Tom – thank you for your excellent insight! Another point that strikes me as odd is the requirement of ‘faith’ in the official narrative. This is ironic as police detective work – like medical science – is a strict material science devoid of ‘subjectivism’ and ‘idealism’ – and yet we are told that the chain of evidence is too complicated for the average person to understand! Speculation is not material science. My points are troubling metanarratives (superstructure) which are usually indicative of incomplete or faulty chains of evidence (infrastructure). Your research has delved into the problematic chain of evidence – discovering the inconsistencies and irregularities contained therein. Having family members who work in hhe NHS – I know that doctors routinely prescribe ‘strong’ pain-killers to those who are terminally ill, in terrible pain and already close to passing. This is viewed as ‘humane’ and the police could arrest thousands of doctors for carrying out such actions. I remember Herald Shipman sitting with his back to the police officers during questioning. I have never seen it heard of this tactic before. It transpires that there is no law requiring a suspect sitting in a particular orientation. And then there is his suicide. I remember reading that so much of the evidence being doubtful, contradictory or disproven, and I believe an indepth investigation – as you are doing – will cast a considerable doubt upon his conviction.

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  2. Adrian,

    Thanks. Shipman’s ‘oddity’ as it may have seemed to his medical colleagues could have marked him out. Just as you can have criminal profiles, one can also perhaps conceive of ‘wrongly accused profiles’: i.e. people, like Shipman, who may be vulnerable to wrongful accusations for being standing out in some way and ‘different’. Shipman practised medicine idiosyncratically. conducting himself more like a traditional ‘village doctor’, if you like, who visited patients in their homes and took an interest in them, and so on. I wonder if his own working class background may have influenced him in this.

    Your comment about palliatives goes to the heart of one of the issues in the Shipman case.

    Where a doctor administers analgesics to those near death and this itself causes (or results in) death, this can be considered condonable in law under an informal doctrine known as ‘double effect’. Although much turns on the specific facts of a case, and double effect is not a formal legal defence, it can be the basis of a defence against a charge of homicide (murder or manslaughter) and, as such, can act as a criminal indemnity for the medical profession in the sort of circumstances you mention. Where applied, it could be viewed as a form of euthanasia sanctioned by common law because it means that even where an overdose of an analgesic causes the death, the doctor still has the double effect defence; but, note that this defence arises under condonable circumstances: where (i). death is near and would have happened anyway and (ii). the analgesic is administered for medical effect (the ‘good effect’ of pain relief), and (iii). the ‘bad effect’ of death is, while possibly inevitable, not the primary purpose of the dosage.

    The feature that distinguishes Shipman is that his administration of analgesics was considered to be non-palliative. Shipman tried to claim double effect in his initial contact with the police, but they rejected this defence on the basis that most or all of the patients he allegedly killed were healthy, albeit elderly. From a criminological point of view, and if we assume for a moment that Shipman was guilty, the key point that arises from this is that Shipman’s selection of his victims was on the basis of their vulnerability rather than their medical state per se. A cleverer doctor than Shipman with the same evil designs would have selected terminally-ill patients, as he could then derive the same benefits (psychological power trips, sexual arousal possibly, and financial engorgement) without having to invent elaborate medical justifications for his actions and change patient records; and if caught, as a last resort he could argue a double effect defence. For Shipman, double effect was a dead-end defence. If you try to apply it to non-terminal patients, which an innovative lawyer might have tried on Shipman’s behalf, you are moving into the territory of euthanasia proper and Shipman is then functionally admitting guilt.

    As an aside, the double effect doctrine arose from a 1957 case, R v Adams, which was the prosecution of Dr. John Bodkin Adams for serial murder. Dr. Adams was acquitted on the first count and the Attorney-General then issued a nolle prosequi to prevent prosecution on any further murder counts. So Dr. Adams walked free, though he remained the subject of suspicion for the remainder of his life. This case moved the law on from an earlier judgement in R v Dyson, which was less favourable to doctors and said that where the administration of pain-relief accelerated death, the doctor could be guilty of murder or manslaughter. R v Adams resulted in the more expansive double effect defence.

    The book to read on R v Adams is ‘Easing The Passing’, by the trial judge, Patrick Devlin. I recommend it – very relevant to the Shipman case, for the reasons outlined.

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    1. The question then seems to be whether the evidence used against him stands up to scrutiny. Is it evidence? If it is added together, does it suggest a pattern of ‘hidden’ offending, or is it a spurious construct with no logical thread running through its centre? Perhaps an important prime question should be ‘why’ would anyone (or the ‘State’) frame him? What would be the motivation behind this action? I know the media presentation of Shipman is somewhat different to the outcome of trial – as even that does not align. The police and medical fraternity seem to have deliberately fabricated a certain view of a ‘mass murderer’ whilst the outcome of the Court proceedings are far from suggesting this. Furthermore, I recall sections of so-called ‘biographies’ about Shipman describing supposed incestuous encounters as if the author was in the room and watching – when in reality there is no way any of this could have been known other than through Shipman or his mother confirming it happened! Sexual deviant can then be added to working-class deficient with delusions of grandeur!

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      1. The evidence boils down to:

        (i). Excess morphine at fatal levels found in exhumed patients, suggesting they had been intentionally overdosed with morphine.
        (ii). Post-mortem findings for exhumed patients were inconsistent with or contrary to Dr. Shipman’s certified causes of death.
        (iii). Post-mortem findings and the opinions of an expert general practitioner called to give evidence also reveal that nearly-all the patients were healthy, and none of the patients had a terminal illness.
        (iv). Medical records also reveal that none of the patients had a terminal illness. Even Dr. Shipman does not make the claim that any of his patients were terminal, only that some of them were very ill or very elderly and therefore could die at any time.
        (v). Forensic examination of computer records (albeit by an unaccredited, self-taught detective sergeant) revealed that Dr. Shipman had retroactively modified medical records of the deceased patients at suspicious or incriminating times.
        (vi). Deceased patients were found in similar situations: sat upright in chairs, some with sleeves rolled up as if injected.
        (vii). Dr. Shipman’s proximity to death – he was around, and in most cases the patient died only hours or minutes after his visit.
        (viii). Some patients died in his surgery, which is said to be highly unusual. Suspiciously, Dr. Shipman specified the location of death as 21 Market Street, omitting the name of his surgery, perhaps implying they died at home – if you see the point.
        (ix). Dr. Shipman forged the will of Kathleen Grundy for pecuniary gain, and her exhumed body had excess morphine, per (i) above.

        On its face, the case against Dr. Shipman was damning. However, all of these findings are somewhat subjective. For those interested, let me go through each one briefly:

        (i). The toxicology tests were novel for their time and rested on interpretation. No work was undertaken on this matter by Dr. Shipman’s legal defence and the toxicology evidence was inexplicably left unchallenged in court.
        (ii). & (iii). These findings are more subjective than people think. Even if accepted, they do not preclude somebody simply dying of old age. Most of the patients were elderly. A neighbour of mine recently died in his sleep. He was in his 60s. He had no illness at all. Nobody suggests his wife killed him. He just died. End of. We all have to die some time. Two of the 15 patients were only in their 50s and one was 49, but one of those had cancer, another had psychiatric problems and general issues with her well-being. Most of these 15 patients had lifestyle issues of some sort, or they wouldn’t be seeing a local doctor regularly. In some cases, these were working class people who had led hard lives. It’s also forgotten that 50 was considered fairly old back then, 60 was old proper and you could die at around that age, 70 for women was elderly (for men it was ancient) and the female life expectancy was something like 77 to 80 back then. You were on your way out. That is not to suggest these people didn’t matter – if he was guilty, what he did was cruel and horrible – I only observe that most of them were, for their time, basically old. People do just die, for no apparent reason. The body can close down.
        (iv). No need for comment as I believe this point is common ground.
        (v). Again, this was left unchallenged in court, but there are a number of possible explanations. The obvious riposte to the prosecution is that Dr. Shipman was a ‘hands-on’ doctor, not an ‘administrative’/bureaucrat type doctor. He’d held a bureaucratic/policy job earlier in his career, and he only tolerated it for about 18 months before moving back into frontline general practice, where he clearly thrived on direct contact with patients. He claimed at trial to reserve a day a week for paperwork (“administration”), which to me makes it sound like he didn’t enjoy it and saw it as a chore and distraction from real medical work. Some GPs will excel on the paperwork side, even take pleasure in it, and keep everything up-to-date and in order, others like Shipman may be more haphazard in their record-keeping and only update and compile records as and when prompted to by events and circumstances. They shouldn’t do it this way, but some do. An experienced doctor like Shipman will have realised that medical records need to be complete for deceased patients because of the potential for legal disclosure due to insurance and probate issues, and he may have learned this the hard way having been caught out by solicitors or insurers in the past. Thus, one can imagine a scenario in which a patient dies or seems very ill, or otherwise has caught his attention, and Shipman then hurries to update his records, including things from memory that date back months but that he never found the time to record.
        All that is apart from the fact that forensic hard drive examination can lead to flawed conclusions where, as here, an untrained enthusiast undertakes a hard drive search in adversarial circumstances and is looking for suspicious things. Innocent discrepancies that arise from the idiosyncracies of the operator (Shipman himself) or the computer itself can take on a magnified significance and be made to look criminal. A simple example that will suffice for now is that computer operating systems will often record a file as ‘modified’ for no reason other than that an operator has opened the file. This would have the effect of throwing the recording of times and dates awry and give a misleading impression.
        (vi). Admittedly, you would expect elderly people who have suffered strokes and heart attacks and what not to be found in all manner of positions – some will collapse on the kitchen floor or in the middle of the street, some will fall down stairs, and so on and so forth. But the problem with this point is that Shipman was not present at all the relevant deaths, in most cases he had been gone at least an hour or a few hours, the significance of this being that we are asked to believe he poisoned these patients with morphine – something that leads to instant death. This means he must have injected them upright in their chairs. Yet being found sat upright is not necessarily surprising given that most of these people were elderly. There is a pattern, but in itself, it doesn’t establish anything.
        (vii). Like point (vi) above, this is admittedly circumstantial evidence of a pattern that involves Dr. Shipman, but it doesn’t establish guilt and has to be considered alongside Dr. Shipman’s clinical habits: he was known for visiting patients.
        (viii).This too is suspicious, but proves nothing in itself – these patients were not spring chickens.
        (ix). The forgery allegation rests on the idea that Shipman asked Kathleen Grundy to sign a piece of paper, then called in two individuals from his waiting room and asked them to add their signatures as ‘witnesses’. Even though they had not actually witnessed Grundy’s signing anything, the witnessing could nevertheless be arguably valid (albeit open to challenge) as they were present when Grundy verbally affirmed whatever it was that they were signing. Any such will would certainly be provable for probate purposes, albeit again, potentially open to challenge on formal grounds. However, the police allege that these were specimen signatures for Dr;. Shipman and he then forged the will in his own time and added forged signatures to it. The allegation is clearly not cast iron because in normal circumstances Shipman could credibly maintain that Kathleen Grundy did make a will, she just did not strictly follow the formalities of English testamentary law, making it a civil dispute rather than a criminal matter. If, in an alternate scenario, Kathleen Grundy had denied the will, he would just put it down to her being an old lady and offer to renounce the bequest anyway. It’s clear from this that, contrary to impressions given otherwise, the forgery allegation rested on the murder allegation, not the other way round. It’s unlikely Shipman could have been found guilty of offences relating to forging a will without Kathleen Grundy’s death, and without Grundy’s death, the police had nothing to go on anyway. So why kill Kathleen Grundy? Obviously to inherit tout suite! But in doing so, he undertakes a huge risk. He is killing her shortly after he forges her will. Then we have him forging a letter to Grundy’s solicitor [Q. How did he know who they were?] and pretending to be someone called ‘S. Smith’ and mentioning a new (forged) will, which has him named as the sole major beneficiary. As forgeries go, it has to be one of the clumsiest ever seen by Greater Manchester Police, with Dr. Shipman practically giving himself away.

        Dr. Shipman’s legal defence was poor and I think the jury were entitled to find him Guilty on the evidence presented. In skilled hands, the Shipman trial could have been a close run thing, as there was scope for doubt. For me, the effusions of the media raise doubt in my mind, as they are proven dissemblers and the investigation itself seemed conclusion-driven and almost like a witch-hunt. Not that I say he was innocent. I really don’t know, but it is still possible to believe he was the entirely innocent victim of a fact-selective criminal investigation, fuelled by his idiosyncracies as a community medic.

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