The Doctor has his day
Shipman’s trial commenced in Preston Crown Court on 5 October 1999. Attempts by his defence council to have Shipman tried in three separate phases, that is, cases with physical evidence, cases without and the Grundy case (where the forgery differentiated it from other cases), as well as to have damning evidence relating to Shipman’s fraudulent accumulation of morphine and other drugs, were thrown out, and the trial proceeded on the sixteen charges included in the indictment.The prosecution asserted that Shipman had killed the fifteen patients because he enjoyed exercising control over life and death, and dismissed any claims that he had been acting compassionately, as none of his victims were suffering a terminal illness.Angela Woodruff, Kathleen Grundy’s daughter, appeared as first witness. Her forthright manner, and account of her unremitting determination to get to the truth impressed the jury, and attempts by Shipman’s defence to undermine her were largely unsuccessful.Next up, the government pathologist led the court through the gruesome post mortem findings, where morphine toxicity was the cause of death in most instances.Thereafter, fingerprint analysis of the forged will showed that Kathleen Grundy had never handled the will, and her signature was dismissed by a handwriting expert as a crude forgery.
A police computer analyst then testified how Shipman had altered his computer records to create symptoms that his dead patients never had, in most cases within hours of their deaths.As the trial progressed on to other victims and the accounts of their relatives, the pattern of Shipman’s behaviour became much clearer. A lack of compassion, disregard for the wishes of attending relatives, and reluctance to attempt to revive patients were bad enough, but another fraud also came to light. Shipman would pretend to call the emergency services in the presence of relatives, then cancel the call out when the patient was discovered to be dead. Telephone records showed that no actual calls were made.Finally, evidence of his drug hoarding was introduced, with false prescribing to patients who did not require morphine, over-prescribing to others who did, as well as proof of his visits to the homes of the recently deceased to collect up unused drug supplies for “disposal”.Shipman’s haughty demeanour throughout the trial did nothing to assist his defence in painting a picture of a dedicated healthcare professional of the old fashioned variety, always putting the needs of others above his own. Despite their attempts, his arrogance and constantly changing stories, when caught out in obvious lies, did nothing to endear him to the jury.Following a meticulous summation by the judge, and a caution to the jury that no one had actually witnessed Shipman kill any of his patients, the jury were sufficiently convinced by the testimony and evidence presented, and unanimously found Shipman guilty on all charges; 15 counts of murder and one of forgery, on the afternoon of 31 January 2000.The judge passed fifteen life sentences, as well as a four-year sentence for forgery, which he commuted to a 'whole life' sentence, effectively removing any possibility of parole. Shipman was incarcerated at Durham Prison.