The exhumation of a 91-year-old woman will follow that of another woman yesterday, and together they mark a significant widening of the inquiry. It is already the biggest of its kind in the area since the Moors Murders of the 1960s, and sources believe that its scope will become even broader in the coming weeks.
Officers are planning to fly to Malta soon in the hope of exhuming the body of yet another woman buried there. It is understood that, as in the other cases, forensic scientists want to check for traces of a pain-killing drug which is only available on prescription.
A dedicated police inquiry team is currently focused on a total of 28 deaths, all former patients of Dr Harold Shipman, 52, who ran his surgery in Hyde, Manchester. He has been charged with the murder of four people. He is also accused of forging the pounds 300,000 will of one victim, Kathleen Grundy, 81, in order to make himself the sole beneficiary.
Today Dr Shipman is due to appear before Tameside magistrates to face all the charges. The other killings of which he is accused are those of Joan Melia and Winifred Mellor, both aged 73, and Bianka Pomfret, 49. He is currently being held in remand at Preston Prison.
Yesterday police carried out the grim task of exhuming Ivy Lomas, a 63- year-old woman patient. She died of a heart attack on 29 May 1997 while on a routine visit to the doctor's fund-holding practice at Market Street in Hyde.
The death certificate signed by Dr Shipman says she died of coronary thrombosis, ischaemic heart disease and chronic obstructive airway disease (smoking).
Mrs Lomas had lived in a rented terrace house in Thornley Street, Hyde for 14 years. Neighbours said she did all her own shopping, played bingo, and apart from being a heavy smoker, always looked well.
"She was the nervy type who smoked a lot," said her neighbour Joan Binns, 80. "She didn't look her age and it came as a terrific shock when she died."
A post mortem was carried out on the remains of Mrs Lomas, and the findings will be reported to South Cheshire coroner John Pollard this week.
Detectives are also investigating the death of the 73-year-old widow Cissy Davies who died on 3 February this year, having earlier visited Dr Shipman's surgery. Mrs Davies, who was in poor health, died of bronchopneumonia, according to her death certificate.
Officers are preparing to fly to Malta to exhume the body of another patient, Marie Antoinette Fernley, who died in Hyde three years ago at the age of 53.
She was born in Malta and had moved to Britain after marrying an Englishman, but her body was returned to the island after her death. She is buried in the National Cemetery in the town of Paola.
Yesterday, however, Anthony Borgbarthet, the Attorney General of Malta, said he had received no official request from Manchester police to carry out the inquiry.
The matter would have to go before a magistrate before permission could be granted, he said, but added that this could be achieved "in a matter of hours."Reuse content