BBC documentary on Yorkshire serial killer doctor Harold Shipman in the works

A documentary about serial killer Harold Shipman - dubbed the most prolific murderer in British history - will be made to air on the BBC.

Monday, 12th August 2019, 11:34 am
Harold Shipman. Credit: Greater Manchester Police.

Shipman, who studied at the University of Leeds School of Medicine before moving to Pontefract General Infirmary and the Abraham Ormerod medical centre in Todmorden, West Yorkshire, was convicted of killing 15 of his patients over two decades after injecting them with diamorphine

However an inquiry after his trial found that he may have been responsible for 250 deaths of his patients.

The surgery in Todmorden. Picture: Jim Moran.

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Finally apprehended after a clumsy fraud attempt in 1998, he had been killing since the 1970s.

Shipman hanged himself at Wakefield Prison in January 2004, four years after being jailed for life.

Following BBC Four’s Yorkshire Ripper Files - which aired in March this year - Wall to Wall Media is making the new "box-set" history series The Harold Shipman Files: A Very British Crime Story.

Filmmaker Chris Wilson said: “There have been many films about Harold Shipman. Most attempt to take us 'inside-the-mind' of a serial killer. But none have fully explored the historical, cultural and social context that enabled a medical professional to take the lives of hundreds of trusting patients over more than two decades.

"It’s a chilling story about power, authority and an astonishing betrayal of trust - one that, for me, remains as pertinent today as it was twenty years ago.”

Mr Wilson will meet friends and relatives of Shipman’s victims, some of whom will be speaking for the first time.

He will also talk to police officers who investigated the case as well as lawyers and doctors who were involved in the inquiry to reveal "a more complex picture than has been told before," said the BBC.

Many of Shipman’s victims were in fine health and some were middle-aged.

Re-investigating the case, the series will probe the context of late 20th century Britain, exploring whether deference to a doctor’s authority and attitudes to the elderly meant that a murderous GP remained at large for so long.

BBC Four Channel Editor Cassian Harrison said: “BBC Four has made its name as a home of documentaries of unique depth and insight.

"After the success of The Yorkshire Ripper Files, I know that this multi-part investigation of Harold Shipman will bring a similarly singular BBC Four take, exploring not just Shipman himself but also the society and context which allowed him to become Britain’s most prolific serial killer."

Commissioning editor Abigail Priddle added: “As The Yorkshire Ripper Files: A Very British Crime Story so powerfully showed, no crime or criminal exists in a vacuum and this critical re-examination of these terrible events will endeavour to reveal the systematic failings and cultural attitudes that allowed Shipman to go undetected for so long at such terrible human cost.”

Inquiry leader Dame Janet Smith concluded in her sixth and final report in 2005 that Shipman probably caused the deaths of between ten and fifteen patients while at Pontefract General Infirmary, with an estimate of 237 or 238 people during his time in Todmorden and the Hyde area of Greater Manchester.

The documentary will be made by Wall to Wall Media (a Warner Bros Television Production UK Ltd company).

Executive producer is Nancy Bornat, it was commissioned by Cassian Harrison, controller at BBC Two and Tom McDonald, head of commissioning for natural history and specialist factual content.