Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

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

The Verdict and Sentence

Judge Justice Forbes presided in Shipman's trial
Judge Justice Forbes presided in Shipman's trial (CAVENDISH PRESS/UK)

It took the judge — Mr. Justice Forbes — two weeks to meticulously dissect the evidence heard by the jury.  He urged caution, noting that no witness had actually seen Shipman kill.  And he also urged the jurors to use common sense in arriving at their verdict.

In summing up, he said, in part:

"The allegations could not be more serious — a doctor accused of murdering 15 patients... You will have heard evidence which may have aroused feelings of anger, strong disapproval, disgust, profound dismay or deep sympathy."

At 4:43 pm on Monday January 31st 2000, the foreman declared all the jury's verdicts were unanimous:  they found Shipman guilty on 15 counts of murder and one of forgery.

The disgraced doctor stood motionless and betrayed no sign of emotion as he heard the jurors' verdicts read.

Wearing black, Shipman's wife, Primrose, also remained impassive.  Her boys — one beside her and the other seated behind — looked down and seemed to diminish on hearing the results.

In the public gallery, some gasped as Shipman's previous forgeries were described.

Defense counsel, Nicola Davies, asked that sentence be passed immediately.

Mr. Justice Forbes obliged, addressing Shipman:

"You have finally been brought to justice by the verdict of this jury.  I have no doubt whatsoever that these are true verdicts.  The time has now come for me to pass sentence upon you for these wicked, wicked crimes.

"Each of your victims was your patient.  You murdered each and every one of your victims by a calculated and cold-blooded perversion of your medical skills, for your own evil and wicked purposes.

"You took advantage of, and grossly abused their trust.  You were, after all, each victim's doctor.  I have little doubt that each of your victims smiled and thanked you as she submitted to your deadly ministrations.

The judge passed fifteen life sentences for the murders and a four-year sentence for forgery.

Shipman listens to the verdict
Shipman listens to the verdict (Elizabeth Cook, REUTERS/Archive Photos)

Then he broke with the tradition that usually involves writing to the Home Secretary about his recommendations on length of the sentence:

'In the ordinary way, I would not do this in open court, but in your case I am satisfied justice demands that I make my views known at the conclusion of this trial... My recommendation will be that you spend the remainder of your days in prison.'

Fifteen murders had been dealt with and the fifty-seven day trial was over.

But the extent of the killing was yet to be revealed.

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