Two days after a family doctor was convicted of murdering 15 female patients, the case is anything but closed. The deaths of another 136 patients are now being re-examined and the British government has announced an inquiry into how Dr. Harold Shipman's actions could have gone undetected for more than three years.
Shipman, who altered medical records at his one-man practice in northern England to cover up his crimes, was found guilty of injecting the middle-aged and elderly women with lethal heroin doses between March 1995 and July 1998.
Prosecutors said Shipman killed because he enjoyed "exercising the ultimate power of controlling life and death."
The doctor also was found guilty of forging the $620,000 will of his final victim, Kathleen Grundy, 81, and was sentenced to 15 life sentences, plus four years for forgery.
Announcing the public inquiry in the House of Commons, Health Secretary Alan Milburn said its goal was to reform the existing system of audit and accountability to reduce the risks of such a thing happening again and ensure public faith in the medical profession.
"Having betrayed the trust of his own patients, Harold Shipman should not be allowed to break the vital bond of trust that exists between family doctors and their patients," Milburn said.
He said among the immediate actions that would be taken was a clinical audit of Shipman's practice, covering the pattern and causes of deaths, drug prescriptions and other medical records.
The victims' relatives will be able to present their views and the report will be made public after it is completed this fall, Milburn said.
"It will look at the role played by all the agencies involved in the Shipman case, including the coroner, registrar, police and health services," the health secretary said.
Five months before Shipman's arrest, police abandoned an investigation into the doctor that had been prompted by a colleague who became worried about how often Shipman asked his practice to provide a second signature on cremation certificates. Only one doctor's signature is required on other death certificates.
Shipman then went on to kill three more patients in his practice, based in Hyde, outside the city of Manchester.
Investigators said his multiple murders came to an end only because Grundy's daughter, a lawyer, became suspicious about her mother's will leaving the entire estate to Shipman.
Meanwhile, hundreds of people gathered Tuesday evening at St. George's Church in Hyde to remember friends and family killed by Shipman. They quietly filed the church pews for a special service of prayer.
"People are still reeling. They are still in shock and are looking for something to hold on to," said John Harries, curate of the church. "It was a fact in life that you could trust your doctor -- that has now gone."
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