Sinead O’Hanlon, MANCHESTER, England, Reuters
Britain’s “Dr. Death” Harold Shipman is set to be confirmed as one of the world’s worst serial killers on Friday when a public inquiry reports on the deaths of 500 of his patients.
Shipman was jailed for life in 2000 for murdering 15 patients with lethal heroin injections but the inquiry is expected to blame the once trusted family doctor for many more killings in northern English towns.
Relatives of the dead have been informed already of the outcome. Local community support services say the death toll is shockingly high and stretches back at least 18 years.
“It is absolutely devastating, shattering, for so many people — far, far worse than they thought,” said Fr. Denis Maher from St. Paul’s in Hyde, the northern English town where Shipman worked.
“Even if they had suspicions, their reaction has been a lot stronger than they expected. Hyde will never get over this, not in my lifetime or for generations,” he told Reuters.
Maher, who was present at many of the exhumations of the original victims, said some of his parishioners had received letters which indicated Shipman’s murderous spree began at least 18 years ago.
The expected findings will confirm Shipman as one of recent history’s most prolific serial killers, just behind Colombian Pedro Armando Lopez — dubbed the “Monster of the Andes” — who was convicted of 57 murders in 1980 but is suspected of killing 300 young girls.
A spokeswoman for the inquiry said that despite intensive speculation, no details about the findings would be made public before Friday.
Inquiry head Dame Janet Smith’s 2,000 page report covers six volumes and sets out exactly how many people Shipman was likely to have murdered over 24 years as a general practitioner in the towns of Hyde in Greater Manchester and Todmorden, West Yorkshire.
Helen Ogborn, manager of the local Victim Support team, said she had brought in extra staff to cope with the flood of calls from those who had already received bad news.
“The reactions range from shocked, angry and frightened to relieved,” Ogborn told Reuters.
Described as a softly-spoken and caring doctor, prosecutors at Shipman’s trial said his drive to kill was fuelled by his enjoyment of a God-like power over life and death.
Others have speculated the doctor, who never admitted his crimes, was influenced by the experience of watching his mother die from cancer when he was a young man.