see Independent Report and the Shipman
News - Monday, 31 January, 2000, 21:35 GMT
Profile of a killer doctor
Shipman: Did he want power over life and death?
When the police began investigating Dr Harold Shipman
in September 1998 they struggled to understand him.
How could a GP who was trusted and respected by more than
3,000 patients also be a killer who struck time after
time with no obvious motive?
The house in Nottingham where Shipman was born
Harold Frederick Shipman was born into a working class
family in Nottingham on 14 January, 1946. Fred, as he
was known, was a confident and clever child who was accepted
into the local grammar school.
When he was 17 his life changed dramatically. His mother,
Vera, died of lung cancer at the age of 43. For the first
time Shipman saw the influence of doctors - administering
drugs like morphine to alleviate pain - in the last days
of a life.
The teenage Shipman was ambitious
and academically successful - and in 1965 he went on to
study medicine at Leeds University.
Shipman as a teenager at Pavement High Grammar
But his life soon became more complicated when his 17-
year-old window-dresser girlfriend, Primrose, became pregnant.
The two had first met after Primrose's father rented Fred
a room. They married in November 1966 and moved into a
flat. Together they had four children - all of whom are
In 1970, Shipman graduated from university and started
working at the Pontefract General Infirmary. By 1974 he
had become a GP working in a practice in Todmorden, but
he soon began to have blackouts.
It was at this time that his colleagues made the shocking
discovery that Fred Shipman was addicted to the morphine-like
Shipman was convicted of making out
drug prescriptions to himself and given a heavy fine.
He was also fired from his job at the Todmorden practice.
Happy times for Shipman as a student
He left town for a psychiatric and drug treatment centre
in York and although his career was damaged, he was not
struck off. Shipman's only explanation was that he had
become fascinated with drugs while at college.
The senior partner at the Todmorden practice, Dr Michael
Grieve, said: "If Fred hadn't at that point gone
straight into hospital, perhaps his sentence would have
been more than just a fine. I think it's perhaps the fact
that he put his hand up and said 'I need treatment' and
went into hospital, and then the sick-doctor routine takes
Hard working GP
Sometime later in 1977, Shipman re-emerged as a GP in
Hyde. His new colleagues respected his work, although
some felt he could be arrogant and patronising towards
In 1993, he set up on his own, having
fallen out with his partners. His wife Primrose worked
as a part-time receptionist and the new practice attracted
a large number of patients. But on 7 September 1998, his
world came crashing down when he was arrested and charged
with the murder of Kathleen Grundy. As police investigated
they uncovered evidence of a further murders.
Caring Shipman: the doctor's practice wins an
award for raising money for charity
Controlling and dominating
During their interviews with him a highly confident Shipman
denied all charges. Detective Chief Inspector Mike Williams
said: "He was an arrogant type of individual to deal
with. And I don't say that lightly.
"I've listened to the interviews,
and he certainly wanted to control and dominate the interview
and the officers, at times belittling them.
DCI Mike Williams: "He was arrogant"
"He was treating this
as some sort of game, a competition, pitting his, what
he considered to be his superior intellect, to those of
the officers who were interviewing him."
His crimes defy easy answers. In only one murder - that
of Mrs Grundy which led to his downfall - did money appear
to be a motive.
Perhaps Shipman was an ambitious man who, disappointed
by life, struck out at middle-aged women for some complex
Forensic psychologist Dr Richard Badcock, who interviewed
Dr Shipman in an attempt to provide the police with an
insight into why he had killed, told the BBC: "He
was very definitely not doing it for excitement, far from
"He was doing it mainly to try and resolve something
within himself...to get rid of an anxiety but an anxiety
which he might not even have let himself think about."
The South Manchester coroner, John Pollard, who knew and
worked with Shipman, has his own theory about the doctor's
motives. "I think the only valid possible explanation
for it is that he simply enjoyed viewing the process of
dying and enjoyed the feeling of control over life and
death, literally over life and death."