Harold Shipman: 20 years on

It feels only yesterday, but it’s now two decades since one of the most famous serial killers of all-time was convicted.

Harold Shipman wasn’t the “stereotypical” serial killer that may have lurked in dark alleys, he was one that operated in one of the safest environments around in the form of a hospital.

Perhaps even more disturbing is that Shipman wasn’t the first to abuse this position and hasn’t been the last. There have been other medical serial killers, with some less than five years ago.

In other words, as much as the medical industry is developing in terms of technology and supplies, there is still a hidden, albeit small, risk.

Following on from the above, and 20 years on since Shipman’s conviction, let’s take a look at what we know about the prolific serial killer.

At least 250 deaths

Perhaps one of the scariest parts of the Harold Shipman story is the fact that nobody quite knows the extent of his crimes. While the official reports suggest he killed 250 people, the authorities are keen to stress that this could be much higher.

After all, his killing spree lasted several decades. It simply wasn’t feasible to exhume bodies from that long ago and thus, the evidence is somewhat limited.

He committed suicide

Four years after his conviction Shipman was found hanged in his cell at Wakefield prison. The death was classed as suicide.

There are some suggestions that Shipman “timed” his suicide to ensure the financial security of his wife, who would not have been eligible for his pension payout had he lived beyond 60-years.

He nearly got away with it

It is one of the most high-profile serial killer cases in history, but worryingly the truth nearly didn’t come out.

While a local coroner had initially raised suspicions, they largely fell on death ears. Instead, it was Shipman’s greed that eventually got the better of him. He forged the will of one victim, Kathleen Grundy, ensuring that all of her assets would be directed to him. After she was administered with a lethal dose of morphine and subsequently passed away, her daughter noted the suspicious circumstances. Being a lawyer, she went to the police and a full investigation began.

The rest, as they say, is history.

We still don’t know the motive

Usually, over time, we start to learn the motives for serial killers. With Shipman, this hasn’t been possible and a whole host of theories have been branded around:

  • He was attempting to avenge the death of his mother, who died when he was only 17.
  • He was attempting to ease the burden on the country’s health system.
  • He loved the thought of playing God.

It caused stricter legislation for doctors

While the same could theoretically happen again, at least in the UK stricter regulation has been brought in to grossly minimize the chances.

For example, GP death rates are now monitored and if spikes are recorded, these are investigated. Additionally, doctors are no longer permitted to stockpile controlled drugs (which Shipman administered to his patients).