Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Dr. Harold Shipman, the World's Most Prolific Serial Killer

The Cybertrail

When Shipman first encountered the computer, he was technophobic. But once he reluctantly agreed to embrace the (then) new technology, he declared himself a computer expert.  This was consistent with his need to assert his superiority

But what the self-proclaimed computer wiz didn't know was that his hard drive recorded — to the second — every phony alteration he made to a patient's records.

A taped interview with the Greater Manchester Police demonstrates this lack of knowledge:

Police Officer:  I'll just remind you of the date of this lady's death — 11th May '98.  After 3 o'clock that afternoon, you have endorsed the computer with the date of 1st October '97 which is 10 months prior, 'chest pains'.

Dr. Shipman:  I have no recollection of me putting that on the machine.

Officer:  It's your passcode; it's your name.

Shipman:  It doesn't alter the fact I can't remember doing it.

Officer:  You attended the house at 3 o'clock.  That's when you murdered this lady.  You went back to the surgery and immediately started altering this lady's medical records. You tell me why you needed to do that.

Shipman:  There's no answer.

In another recorded interview, Detective Constable Marie Snitynski also demonstrated how Shipman's computer trapped him.  Following her advising the doctor he had killed a patient (73-year-old Winnifred Mellor) with morphine overdose, then altered records to show a history of angina and chest pains, the police officer continued her interview:

Police Officer:  The levels were such that this woman actually died from toxicity of morphine, not as you wrongly diagnosed.  In plain speaking you murdered her...One feature of these statements from the family was they couldn't believe their own mother had chest pains, angina and hadn't been informed.

Harold Shipman: By, by whom?

Officer:  By her.

Shipman:  By her, thank you.

Officer:  They also found it hard to believe... Because she didn't have a history of chest complaints and heart disease and angina, did she doctor?

Shipman:  If it's written on the records then she had the history and therefore...

Officer:  The simple truth is you've fabricated a history to cover what you've done, you'd murdered her and you make up a history of angina and chest pains so you could issue a death certificate and placate this poor woman's family didn't you?

Shipman:  No.

Officer:  We've got a statement from a detective sergeant John Ashley who works in the field of computers.  He has made a thorough examination of your computer, doctor, and the medical records contained on it...what he's found is that there are a number of entries that have been incorrectly placed on this record to falsely mislead and to indicate this woman had a history of angina and chest pains.  What have you got to say about that, doctor?

Shipman: Nothing.

It should be apparent from the above exchange that Shipman was unwilling to cooperate with the police in any way.  Throughout the entire ordeal he was to be arrogant and supercilious.  This behavior earned him no friends during the ensuing trial, which commenced on a bright, sunny day in the Lancashire town of Preston on October 5th, 1999.

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