Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

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

Cash for Ash

From a neighboring practice, Dr. Booth had gone to the funeral directors to examine a body.  British law requires a doctor from an unrelated practice to countersign cremation forms issued by the original doctor. They are paid a fee for this service which some medics cynically call "cash for ash." Debbie told Dr. Booth she had misgivings.  

Booth explained, "She was concerned about the number of deaths of Dr. Shipman's patients that they'd attended recently.  She was also puzzled by the way in which the patients were found.  They were mostly female, living on their own, found dead sitting in a chair fully dressed, not in their nightclothes lying ill in bed."

Booth spoke to her colleagues.  One of them, Dr. Linda Reynolds contacted coroner John Pollard.  He in turn alerted the police. In a virtually covert operation, Shipman's records were examined and given a clean bill of health because the causes of death and treatments matched perfectly.

What the police did not discover was that Shipman had re-written patient records after he killed. 

The quality of that investigation has been questioned because the police failed to check for a previous criminal record.  Nor did they make inquiries with the General Medical Council. Had they done so, Shipman's past record of drug abuse and forgery might well have led to a more thorough approach.

But more intense scrutiny was about to blow the Shipman case wide open.

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