GP's admission may lead to fresh charges

Police to consider reopening the case against Howard Martin after he admits helping dozens of terminally ill patients to die

Medical opinion has been polarised after revelations yesterday by a former GP who admitted to helping dozens of his patients to die. The police are considering whether there is scope for fresh charges against Dr Howard Martin, who was struck off the medical register last week after he was found guilty of giving unjustifiably high doses of powerful painkillers to 18 patients.

The former GP broke a long silence to admit that, despite being cleared of three murders in 2005, he did deliberately hasten those patients' deaths, as well as countless others. Dr Martin, 75, claimed he was motivated by "Christian compassion" rather than any malice or desire to "play God".

Two eminent medical experts who gave evidence at Dr Martin's murder trial were divided yesterday as to whether his actions were medically justified or simply unlawful.

Professor Robert Forrest, a toxicologist who has been involved in six murder trials involving health professionals, said it was clear at the time that Dr Martin had given inappropriately high doses of morphine and he was aware of the consequences of his actions. "This is now, and was then, murder, and he should face another trial," Professor Forrest said last night.

Professor Karol Sikora, an oncologist who was a medical expert for the defence, however, remains convinced that Dr Martin is "no Harold Shipman", but merely "heavy handed", an "old doctor out of kilter with advances in science, ethics and technology which got him into trouble". Professor Sikora believes that a new trial would be a "waste of time and money".

Professor Sikora's views will no doubt anger relatives of some of Dr Martin's deceased patients whose lives were deliberately shortened by a GP apparently practising euthanasia throughout much of his career.

Professor Forrest joined the son of Harry Gittin, 74, who died after receiving a injection of diamorphine from Dr Martin in 2004, in urging Durham Police and the Crown Prosecution Service to reopen the investigation on account of Dr Martin's own admissions and, in particular, his motivation and intent to hasten death. Dr Martin could even face a retrial after the double jeopardy law was revoked in 2005.

The doctor's frank but startling admission has also reignited the political debate surrounding assisted suicide. The campaign group Dignity in Dying urged the Government yesterday to reconsider legalising assisted suicide to protect vulnerable patients. An open and transparent assisted dying law would enable people to make their own choice rather than being helped to die or kept alive against their wishes, said Jo Cartwright, a spokeswoman for the group.

Meanwhile, patient safety campaigners are calling for tighter checks for doctors and nurses giving patients powerful painkillers. Peter Walsh, chief executive of Action Against Medical Accidents (AvMA), said while it was impossible to have a fool-proof system, it is essential that at least two professionals were involved every time a decision was made to begin palliative care. New GMC guidance which recommends that doctors discuss and record all decisions about end-of-life care for terminally ill patients does not go far enough, Mr Walsh said.

Professor Forrest is adamant the jury in the 2005 trial were sympathetic to Dr Martin's actions because they also felt euthanasia is acceptable. He said: "I think juries are quite happy that doctors and nurses end people's lives in some circumstances as there is still the perception among people that dying in pain is inevitable. This is murder. In Dr Martin's case I'm sure he had only one motive. He admitted to murder in that interview and so I hope the police and CPS will take proper notice because he should face another trial. There are a lot of doctors who think that they are above the law."

But Professor Sikora said: "Howard Martin is no murderer. He just used old-fashioned pain-control practices which were common when I was a student. Despite the Shipman hysteria at the time, he was no murderer, just heavy handed. At the time of the criminal case I felt he was close to the edge of law, but I think he did the right thing for his patients, who were all dying and in pain. His weakness was to do everything on his own. What would be the point of another trial? It's not going to bring those people back; he's already lost his licence; he is 75. It doesn't matter now: we can't hang him."

Dr Martin, a former army doctor and police surgeon, was arrested in May 2004 at one of his three surgeries in Co Durham after relatives of an elderly cancer patient raised concerns with police after his death. He was suspended by the GMC and charged with three murders after nearly 20 bodies were exhumed. He was cleared at Teesside Crown Court of murdering Mr Gittin, Frank Moss, 59, and Stanley Weldon, 74, after the jury was unconvinced about his intentions.

Dr Martin, who lives in Penmaenmawr, North Wales, said he felt no guilt or remorse; he gave his son Paul, 31, a lethal injection of morphine when he was dying from cancer in 1988. "On Judgment Day I will have to answer to God, and my answer will be this: that I did my best for my patients," he told The Daily Telegraph.

In a statement, Superintendent Paul Unsworth from Durham Constabulary said: "We are aware of comments Dr Martin is said to have made to the media in the wake of the GMC hearing... A decision will have to be made on whether there are any new grounds to reopen the investigation and any such decision will be taken following consultation with the CPS."

Dr Martin was unavailable for further comment.

Doctors in the dock

Daniel Ubani: convicted 2010

Came to Cambridgeshire from Germany in 2008. On his first, and only, shift in Britain he killed David Gray, 70, by administering a massive overdose of diamorphine. Ubani, 67, was convicted in Germany of death by negligence and was last week, struck off the UK medical register.

Harold Shipman: Convicted 2000

One of the most prolific serial killers in history with 215 murders ascribed to him over 23 years. In 2000 a jury found Shipman, above, guilty of 15 murders and sentenced him to life in prison. In 2004 he hanged himself in his cell in Wakefield prison, West Yorkshire.

David Moor: Acquitted 1999

The Northumberland GP was accused of murdering George Liddell, an 85-year-old terminally ill cancer patient with a fatal dose of the painkiller diamorphine. But a landmark verdict cleared him and established that doctors who administer drugs to relieve pain act within the law, whether or not the patient dies.

Nigel Cox: convicted 1992

The consultant rheumatologist believed he shortened Lillian Boyes' life by "between 15 minutes and one hour" by injecting potassium chloride to stop her heart. He was convicted him of attempted murder of the 70-year-old and received a 12-month suspended sentence in 1992. But a year later he returned to his former job under supervision.

Pavan Amara

Arts and Entertainment
TV Review: Sabotage, a meltdown and, of course, plenty of sauce
News
newsVideo for No campaign was meant to get women voting
News
A photo of Charles Belk being detained by police on Friday 22 August
news
News
i100'Geography can be tough'
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Sport
Louis van Gaal looks dejected after Manchester United's 4-0 defeat by MK Dons on Tuesday night
sport
News
Actor, model and now record breaker: Jiff the Pomeranian
Video
News
REX/Eye Candy
science
News
i100
News
Down time: an employee of Google uses the slide to get to the canteen
scienceBosses are inventing surprising ways of making us work harder
Sport
Alexis Sanchez celebrates after scoring his first goal for Arsenal in the Champions League qualifier against Besiktas
sportChilean's first goal for the club secures place in draw for Champions League group stages
Arts and Entertainment
Amis: 'The racial situation in the US is as bad as it’s been since the Civil War'
booksAuthor says he might come back across Atlantic after all
Extras
indybest
Life and Style
Google Doodle celebrates the 200th birthday of Irish writer Sheridan Le Fanu
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
News
i100
News
In Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind Jim Carrey and Kate Winslett medically erase each other from their memories
scienceTechnique successfully used to ‘reverse’ bad memories in rodents could be used on trauma victims
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Pixie Lott will take part in Strictly Come Dancing 2014, the BBC has confirmed
tv
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone
Amazon is buying Twitch for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?

What is the appeal of Twitch?

Amazon is buying the video-game-themed online streaming site for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?
Tip-tapping typewriters, ripe pongs and slides in the office: Bosses are inventing surprising ways of making us work harder

How bosses are making us work harder

As it is revealed that one newspaper office pumps out the sound of typewriters to increase productivity, Gillian Orr explores the other devices designed to motivate staff
Manufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl records

Hard pressed: Resurgence in vinyl records

As the resurgence in vinyl records continues, manufacturers and their outdated machinery are struggling to keep up with the demand
Tony Jordan: 'I turned down the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series nine times ... then I found a kindred spirit'

A tale of two writers

Offered the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series, Tony Jordan turned it down. Nine times. The man behind EastEnders and Life on Mars didn’t feel right for the job. Finally, he gave in - and found an unexpected kindred spirit
Could a later start to the school day be the most useful educational reform of all?

Should pupils get a lie in?

Doctors want a later start to the school day so that pupils can sleep later. Not because teenagers are lazy, explains Simon Usborne - it's all down to their circadian rhythms
Prepare for Jewish jokes – as Jewish comedians get their own festival

Prepare for Jewish jokes...

... as Jewish comedians get their own festival
SJ Watson: 'I still can't quite believe that Before I Go to Sleep started in my head'

A dream come true for SJ Watson

Watson was working part time in the NHS when his debut novel, Before I Go to Sleep, became a bestseller. Now it's a Hollywood movie, too. Here he recalls the whirlwind journey from children’s ward to A-list film set
10 best cycling bags for commuters

10 best cycling bags for commuters

Gear up for next week’s National Cycle to Work day with one of these practical backpacks and messenger bags
Paul Scholes: Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United

Paul Scholes column

Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United
Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

The science of herding is cracked

Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

This tyrant doesn’t rule

It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?