On 1 October 1977 Dr Harold “Fred” Shipman began work at the Donneybrook Medical Practice, Hyde, Cheshire. The 31-year-old had begun practising as a family doctor three years earlier in Todmorden, West Yorkshire but after just a year of practice he was forced to enter rehab, after being caught forging prescriptions for pethidine for his own use. During the 1980s Shipman worked in and around Hyde before opening his own practice on Market Street in 1993. Shipman became a popular local figure.
Suspicions arose in March 1998 when Dr Linda Reynolds of the Brooke Surgery in Hyde was alerted by Deborah Massey, an undertaker, to the seeming high proportion of deaths among Shipman’s patients, many of whom were cremated. Miss Massey thought that Shipman was killing those in his care — although she was unsure whether that was down to incompetence or malice.
The police were informed but decided that there was a lack of evidence, dropping the case on 17 April 1998. Between then and his arrest, Shipman killed another three people, the last being Kathleen Grundy, a former Mayor of Hyde, who was found dead at her home on 24 June 1998. Shipman, the last person to see her alive, recorded her death as “old age”. When Mrs Grundy’s daughter discovered that her mother had left her entire £386,000 estate to Shipman she went to the police and an investigation began. Mrs Grundy’s corpse was exhumed and an autopsy revealed traces of diamorphine.
Todmorden, West Yorkshire; Hyde, Cheshire, England
Shipman was arrested on 7 September 1998 and the police began to look into 15 other deaths where Shipman had signed the death certificate. A trail of forged medical notes and the use of diamorphine was found in them all.
On 5 October 1999 Shipman went on trial charged with the murders of Marie West, Irene Turner, Lizzie Adams, Jean Lilley, Ivy Lomas, Jermaine Ankrah, Muriel Grimshaw, Marie Quinn, Kathleen Wagstaff, Bianka Pomfret, Norah Nuttall, Pamela Hillier, Maureen Ward, Winifred Mellor, Joan Melia and Kathleen Grundy.
Dubbed Dr Death by the media, on 31 January 2000, Shipman was found guilty of all 15 murders and sentenced to life imprisonment with a recommendation that he should never be released. The Shipman Inquiry believed that he had killed around 250 people although 459 people died under his care. On 13 January 2004, the day before his 58th birthday, Shipman hanged himself in his cell at Wakefield Prison.