Chilling mistake Harold Shipman made that exposed decades of brutal murders

Harold Shipman was a loving husband, a father of four and a respected GP – he was also Britain's worst serial killer and the only doctor ever convicted of murdering his own patients.

Shipman was found guilty of the murders of 15 of his patients but it is believed he is responsible for at least 250 deaths.

He mainly targeted elderly women, 80 per cent of his victims were female OAPs.

But his youngest victim could have been just four. Shipman's confirmed youngest victim was a 41-year-old man.

For more than two decades his chilling crimes went undiscovered.

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After graduating as a doctor from Leeds University, Shipman first worked in a hospital in Pontefract before choosing to become a GP in 1974.

Throughout the 1980s he worked as a GP in Hyde, finally opening his own practice in 1993.

He lived with his beloved wife, Primrose, and their four children and was a well-liked and respected member of the community.

His patients also liked the family doctor, especially the elderly ladies he killed who were said to "adore the good doctor".

Shipman followed the same chilling method in almost all of his murders – most of his victims were found sitting upright in a chair, fully clothed and seemed to have died of natural causes.

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But instead, the deadly doctor had injected them with a lethal dose of morphine.

Shipman would then alter their medical records to fit the cause of death and, horrifyingly, convince their families to cremate their remains so their bodies could never be exhumed and prove his guilt.

But after more than 20 years of carrying out his gruesome crimes, suspicions surrounding Shipman began to surface.

In March 1998, three months before he carried out his final murder, Deborah Massey from Frank Massey and Sons funeral parlour raised concerns about how many of Shipman's patients were dying.

She passed them on to Linda Reynolds from the Donneybrook Surgery, also in Hyde, who in turn told John Pollard, the coroner for the South Manchester District.

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Linda was also concerned about how many cremation forms Shipman had countersigned.

The police were informed but couldn't find enough evidence to bring charges – leaving Shipman free to kill a further three of his patients.

Greater Manchester Police were criticised in The Shipman Inquiry following his conviction for assigning the case to inexperienced detectives.

But suspicion surrounding the doctor remained and a few months later Hyde taxi driver John Shaw contacted the police and told officers he believed Shipman had killed 21 of his patients.

Shipman would eventually be the one to incriminate himself when he made a glaring mistake during the murder of his final victim, Kathleen Grundy.

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The 81-year-old was found dead at home on June 24, 1998. Shipman had been the last person to see her alive and recorded "old age" as he cause of death on her death certificate.

However, her daughter, Angela Woodruff, a lawyer, realised something was very wrong when she was contacted by her solicitor, Brian Burgess, about her mother's will.

Kathleen had cut her own children out of her will and left her entire £386,000 fortune to Shipman.

It read: "I give all my estate, money and house to my doctor. My family are not in need and I want to reward him for all the care he has given to me and the people of Hyde."

It arrived at her solcitor's on the same day she died with a letter enclosed, which had been typed on the same typewriter as her will and signed by Kathleen.

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The letter said: "Dear Sir, I enclose a copy of my will. I think it is clear in intent.

"I wish Dr Shipman to benefit by having my estate but if he dies or cannot accept it, then the estate goes to my daughter.

"I would like you to be the executor of the will. I intend to make an appointment to discuss this and my will in the near future."

Mr Burgess urged Angela to go to the police who launched an investigation and exhumed Kathleen's body.

Traces of medical heroin were found in his system, which is sometimes used to control pain in terminal cancer patients.

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Shipman tried to explain this away by claiming Kathleen was an addict and showed detectives notes he had made on her digital medical files.

But when officers examined his computer, these had been added after Kathleen's death and Shipman was arrested on September 7, 1998.

He had made one final error – the forged will had been typed on a Brother typewriter, which Shipman owned – he had also left a fingerprint on the will.

Police were certain Kathleen hadn't been his only victim and created a list of 15 posible murders who Shipman had signed death certificates for.

A pattern soon emerged of high doses of diamorphine, heroin, with him then signing the death certificates and fabricating poor health problems.

Shipman was found guilty of 15 counts of murder and one charge of forgery on January 31, 2000.

He was sentenced to spend the rest of his life in prison. On January 13, 2004, Shipman was found hanged in his cell at Wakefield Prison.

The Shipman Inquiry, held two years after his conviction, had killed at least 215 of his patients.

Dame Janet Smith, who led the inquiry, believes he was responsible for 250 deaths.

Shipman's crimes prompted wide-spread changes to medicine. There are now very few single GP practices.

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