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Britain to probe killer's cell death

AP   2004-01-14 03:49:25  

LONDON -- The once-respected family doctor who became Britain's worst serial killer was found hanged in his prison cell yesterday, cheating his victims' relatives of the one consolation they had hoped for -- an explanation of his 23-year murder spree. Officials are investigating why there was no suicide watch on Dr. Harold Shipman, who was convicted in 2000 of killing 15 patients and later was found to have murdered at least 200 more, mostly by lethal injection. He always maintained his innocence.

Guards found him hanging from bedsheets attached to the window bars of his cell at Wakefield Prison in northern England at 6:20 a.m., Britain's Prison Service said.

He was pronounced dead about two hours later, a day before his 58th birthday.

Thea Morgan, whose mother, Dorothea Renwick, 90, was among Shipman's suspected victims, said she hoped the inquiry into his death would look at "why he was allowed to get away with doing this to himself."

"I want to see the end of him but I think he should have stayed in his cell and rotted," she said.

Many believe Shipman, labelled Dr. Death by tabloid newspapers, killed because he enjoyed the feeling of control it gave him. Some of his victims' survivors said committing suicide allowed him to maintain that power.

"He has controlled us all the way through and he has controlled the last step and I hate him for it," said Jayne Gaskill, whose mother, Bertha Moss, 68, was thought to have been killed by the doctor.

"He has won again. He has taken the easy way out."

In a statement announcing an investigation of Shipman's death, Prisons Minister Paul Goggins did not say whether officials believed someone else could have harmed the doctor.

Stephen Shaw, the new prisons ombudsman named to head the inquiry, focused on suicide as the likely cause of death.

He said it was unrealistic to expect all Britain's 70,000 inmates to be constantly monitored.

"That isn't possible, it isn't desirable, it isn't humane," he told BBC radio. "What I will need to investigate is whether there were any warning signs at Wakefield in the case of Shipman, whether there were any slipups in terms of proper procedures."

Giovanni di Stefano, one of Shipman's lawyers, told Sky News he was stunned, since he had been seeking to appeal Shipman's conviction.

"It is extremely strange, to put it mildly," di Stefano said. "Something is not really quite right there."

Two years after Shipman's conviction for the 15 murders, High Court Judge Janet Smith, appointed to determine the true number of victims, reported he had murdered at least 200 more between 1975 to 1998, when he was a trusted and beloved physician in West Yorkshire and then in Hyde, outside Manchester.

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