Clues in GP murder case destroyed by cremations

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MORE THAN half of the 77 cases in the country's biggest murder inquiry may never be resolved because the bodies have already been cremated.

It is believed 49 former patients of the Manchester GP Dr Harold Shipman, currently facing four murder charges and three counts of forgery, opted for cremation. This has hampered police efforts to establish if their deaths were suspicious.

Police have so far exhumed the bodies of six of Dr Shipman's former patients, all women, from a cemetery and a chapel graveyard at Hyde, Greater Manchester, where the 52-year-old doctor ran his practice.

Det Supt Bernard Postles, leading the investigation, has refused to speculate on the scope of the inquiry - officially confirmed as 28 cases - but The Independent understands that police are concentrating on a total of 77 former patients. All are thought to have been prescribed morphine.

Dr Shipman is charged with killing Joan Melia, 73, on 12 June this year, Winnifred Mellor, also 73, on 11 May this year, and Bianka Pomfret, 49, on 10 December last year. He is also accused of murdering a former Hyde mayoress, Kathleen Grundy, who died aged 81.

The bodies of two other women were exhumed earlier this week and preparations are under way for another. It emerged yesterday that police are also investigating the deaths of two more local women - Joan Dean and Nora Nuthall.