Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

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

Shipman Inquiry

July 2003

Shipman Inquiry Criticizes Police and Coroner.

On July 14, 2003, BBC Online reported that officers from the Greater Manchester police department who investigated the Harold Shipman case had come under heavy criticism following the findings of an official enquiry into the case.

According to the report, Dame Janet Smith, the judge heading the inquiry, said the enquiry had found that "three of Harold Shipman's victims could have been saved if police had investigated properly."

In particular, the enquiry criticized the two Greater Manchester Police detectives who investigated the doctor calling them "inexperienced and unfit to handle the case" and indicated that their lack of experience resulted in "many missed opportunities to bring Shipman's crimes to light."

"If the police and the coroner had moved with reasonable expedition, the lives of Shipman's last three victims would probably have been saved," Judge Smith said.

Chief Superintendent David Sykes, the senior officer on the case was, according to the enquiry "unable to give effective leadership but did not do anything about it," Dame Janet said.

The junior officer, Detective Inspector David Smith, was "out of his depth and made many mistakes but did not ask for help and later lied to cover them up," Smith said.

The enquiry also found that an internal policy inquiry into the two officers' handling of the investigation was "quite inadequate."

The report stated that Sykes has since retired from the police department and a misconduct investigation has been launched against Smith.

A spokeswoman for Greater Manchester police told reporters that the department would examine the report's recommendations thoroughly.    "We have publicly acknowledged that mistakes were made during the first police investigation into Shipman's activities and [we offer] our sincere apologies to the families of the three women who later died.     We have already made a number of changes to our working practices as a result of our own reviews of the investigation. These we believe will ensure that this could never happen again."

The following day The Guardian also carried a report of the findings and paid particular attention to Judge Smith's criticism of the way in which the coroners had handled the case stating that, in future they "would be backed by a team of expert investigators to ensure that a homicidal doctor such as Shipman would not be able to exploit the system again."

The enquiry also found that the postmortem examination of victim Renate Overton, who lingered in a coma for 14 months after Shipman apparently gave her a fatal injection in 1994, were inadequate and there should have been an inquest. "Had the circumstances of her admission to hospital been fully investigated at that time, there is a real possibility that it would have been appreciated that Shipman had deliberately administered a lethal dose of morphine - it was a missed opportunity," Judge Smith said.

The enquiry also criticized Alan Banks, the medical adviser to the West Pennine health authority, saying, "his respect for Shipman closed his mind to the fact that his colleague could have harmed a patient."

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