Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

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

Defending the Indefensible

Throughout the trial, Shipman's defense — mainly Angela Davies, backed by junior counsel Ian Winter — valiantly and professionally attempted to portray Shipman as a kind and caring human being. She painted a rosy portrait of a plain old-fashioned family doctor— one prepared to go the extra mile for his patients.

His prior record of drug misuse, pethidine addiction and forgery went unmentioned.  Instead, Ms. Davies focused on his happy family life with wife Primrose and their four children. 

But the defense fought an uphill battle from the start.  On the one occasion Ms. Davies appeared to be gaining the upper hand, she suddenly lost.

She had been questioning the forensic analyst about the validity of tissue testing for drugs:

"As a scientist you have been breaking pretty new ground in this analysis?"

"That is correct," the forensic analyst replied.

Ms. Davis then asked whether finding morphine in tissue samples was proof of single or multiple doses.

"I can't say," the scientist replied. 

It was easy to see where the defense was heading. If it could be proven that the tissue samples might not have resulted from a single dose, perhaps the jury could be convinced the high levels of morphine in the bodies resulted from years of use.

It was a desperate long shot.  And it failed miserably when Dr. Karch Steven, took the stand. An American whose credentials were as impressive as his evidence, Steven explained a relatively new technique.

He described the test he had performed. It was so new, Britain's prestigious medical journal The Lancet had covered it just a year earlier.  It analyzed hair samples for ongoing drug use.

This remarkably accurate test proved conclusively that not one victim was a long-term morphine user. Clearly, any of the narcotic in murdered women's tissue samples resulted from a single, massive dose.

Finally, the trial turned to evidence revealing Shipman's devious ways of hoarding drugs to kill.


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