Capital Gains / London Lives: Murder is my line .. - Life and Style - The Independent

Capital Gains / London Lives: Murder is my line ..

Were you to expire suddenly, or in suspicious circumstances, you could not find yourself in better hands than Dick Shepherd's.

In more than ten years as a forensic pathologist in the capital, Dr Shepherd has dealt with death in all its guises - suicides, strangulations, hangings, stabbings, multiple shootings, multiple accidents, child abuse, child murder and even assassinations.

Employed by Guy's Hospital Medical School, Dr Shepherd is an approved Home Office pathologist, which means he is qualified to perform murder post mortems for the police. The majority of cases that Guy's handles are routine - sudden and unnatural deaths - but they also have responsibility for suspicious deaths in 98 per cent of London as well as the Home Counties, excluding Kent and Essex.

This arrangement covers a population of 20 million, some of whom have a healthy appetite for crime and violence.

The basis of forensic pathology is the examination and interpretation of injuries. Dr Shepherd performs between 700 and 800 post mortems each year, of which roughly 100 belong in the 'suspicious category. Fifty of them turn out to be murder - an average of one a week. Many of these inevitably make headlines.

'We're on call 24 hours a day. When I set off from home in the morning, I never quite know where I'll find myself by evening,' says Dr Shepherd. He could find himself called out to attend to a contract killing in some remote beauty spot, or, more likely, a kicking or stamping death outside a busy pub.

From the age of nine, Dick Shepherd knew what he wanted to be. A friend brought one of Professor Keith Simpson's grisly textbooks into school. 'What fascinated me was the investigation side of the job, and the fact that you could look at something like that and form conclusions. Those conclusions could help convict someone. . .or free them.

Now married with a teenage son and daughter, Dr Shepherd's passion for medical detective work remains undiminished.

His office in Guy's is airy and cheerful within limits, given the collection of ancient specimens in glass and bookshelves which contain everything you ever wanted to know about asphyxiation, decomposition rates and the life-cycle of the blowfly maggot.

The mass of books is also a clue that forensic pathology is, above all, an intellectual pursuit. The essentials of forensic pathology are still the simple tools: scalpel, knife, pair of scissors - and a keen mind.

On to the vexed question of dissection. How can Dr Shepherd bring himself to do it day after day? 'Pathologists are no more morbid than the members of any other profession. On the whole, they tend to be lively and extroverted characters. We don't perform post mortems for fun. We do it for very good reasons.

'The first rule of the post-mortem room is that we treat the body with respect. I can cope because death is a routine experience for me. . .I see death in a very sanitised way.

'The first post mortem I did was a very peculiar experience, making incisions, removing organs. . .actually not just the first one, but the first hundred.

High levels of concentration are demanded from the pathologist these days: a

murder post mortem usually lasts three to ten hours - a 'routine post mortem runs at around 20 minutes.

Dr Shepherd and his colleagues take precautions. 'Aids, now present throughout the population, has raised the level of concern in our job about the handling of fluids. We protect ourselves by assuming that every body is a serious risk of infection. We see plenty of bodies with track marks, injection sites, the stigmata of the drug addict. . .they're the easy ones to spot.'

The unwritten motto of the profession is 'Look under one more layer; you never know what you'll find. In some cases of manual strangulation there are no marks visible on the neck, but the post mortem allows you to have a good look at the neck muscles for signs of bruising. Some bruises, he says, can go all the way down to the bone through two or three inches of muscle - a good indication of the amount of force used - and what was thought to be natural death turns out to be murder.

He sees amazing things. From extraordinary conditions such as situs inversus - where everything in the body is the wrong way round, yet works perfectly - to the worst forms of human depravity.

'I don't think I'm shock-able. I'm sometimes slightly surprised about what I see. I'm quite capable of believing that one human being can do almost anything to another.

'Sometimes I do get upset on the way back from a case, I pull over to a layby, stop the car for a few minutes and just think quietly to myself. Then I drive on.

Is London getting more violent? Dr Shepherd points out that he has a distorted view. He admits he has seen a slight increase in gunshot wounds. It is also true to say that more people are being stabbed in incidents that would once have been simple muggings.

However, there's no point in worrying. 'You're more likely,' he concludes, 'to win the pools and then be struck by lightning than be murdered at random on London's streets.'

The city is a great place to work. 'Here you'll see the biggest selection of cases in any one year. There's no such thing as 'the standard strangling' or 'the standard stabbing'. The variations in each case add spice. Everybody is fascinated by murder. . .it just happens that murder is my line.

(Photograph omitted)

John Travolta is a qualified airline captain and employed the pilot with his company, Alto
people'That was the lowest I’d ever felt'
Life and Style
healthIt isn’t greasy. It doesn’t smell. And moreover, it costs nothing
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

Returning to the stage after 20 years makes actress feel 'nauseous'

peopleThe Times of India said actress should treat it as a 'compliment'
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Home body: Badger stays safe indoors
The programme sees four specialists creating what they believe are three perfect couples, based on scientific matchmaking. The couples will not meet until they walk down the aisle together
tvUK wedding show jilted
Arts and Entertainment
US pop diva Jennifer Lopez sang “Happy Birthday” to Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, president of Turkmenistan
musicCorporate gigs become key source of musicians' income
Arts and Entertainment
You've been framed: Henri Matisse's colourful cut-outs at Tate Modern
artWhat makes a smash-hit art show
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
filmsDaniel Craig believed to be donning skis as 007 for first time
The Guildhall School of Music and Drama is to offer a BA degree in Performance and Creative Enterprise

Top conservatoire offers ‘groundbreaking’ arts degree

Mikel Arteta pictured during Borussia Dortmund vs Arsenal
champions league
Yes supporters gather outside the Usher Hall, which is hosting a Night for Scotland in Edinburgh
voicesBen Judah: Is there a third option for England and Scotland that keeps everyone happy?
Arts and Entertainment
Pulp-fiction lover: Jarvis Cocker
booksJarvis Cocker on Richard Brautigan
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    SEN Teaching Assistant Runcorn

    £50 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: SEN Teaching Assistant EBD , Septemb...

    Recruitment Consultant - Soho - IT, Pharma, Public Sector

    £20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £35,000 first year: SThree: The SThree group i...

    IT Systems Manager

    £40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

    IT Application Support Engineer - Immediate Start

    £28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Software Application Support Analyst - Imm...

    Day In a Page

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week