'He has removed our hope of finding out why he did it'

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The Independent Online

The word "justice" was scrawled 12 times across the grey shutters which Harold Shipman would have pulled down each night as he left his Market Street surgery in Hyde.

In a town of 24,000, where one in eight people is said to have been on Shipman's books at some time, it is impossible to miss those affected deeply by his crimes. One of them, Barry Swann, wandered aimlessly up Market Street at 11am. His son had telephoned him with the news at daybreak and now he was plainly unsettled.

"Hope is a great motivator," said Mr Swann, 53. "I guess we all hoped he might explain his actions one day. But now he has taken away our hope of ever finding out why he did it. Why has he walked into my mother's home, injected her with diamorphine and killed her?"

His mother was Bessie Swann, 79, whose death at home has since been deemed an unlawful killing by Dame Janet Smith's inquiry into Shipman's crimes. Mr Swann remembers Shipman walking in on the scene. "He put his hand on my right shoulder and said 'we'll just wait for a few minutes to make sure she doesn't wake up'," he said. "He was close enough for me to feel his breath on my face." He never saw Harold Shipman again.

For many relatives of Shipman's victims, a sense of anger overwhelmed the relief that he was finally gone. Jayne Gaskill, the daughter of 68-year old Bertha Moss, said: "He has won again. He has taken the easy way out. He has controlled us all the way through and he has controlled the last step and I hate him for it.

"My father's death was also suspicious but it was never confirmed, and now we will never know."

An RAF lieutenant, Danny Mellor, 54, whose 73-year-old mother Winifred was one of Shipman's last three victims, also found little comfort in news of his death. "He's a complete coward. He has shown his cowardice in the most graphic manner," he said.

Relatives were yesterday reliving their grief and feeling a lasting sense of injustice that Shipman had shown no remorse and maintained his innocence after his conviction.

"The anger is still there and I don't think it will go away," said Jane Ashton-Hibbert, whose mother Hilda Hibbert, 81, was killed in 1996. "He has never faced his victims or shown any compassion or remorse," she added.

Thea Morgan, daughter of Dorothea Renwick, said she hoped the inquiry into his death would look at "why he was allowed to get away with doing this to himself".

"I want to see the end of him but I think he should have stayed in his cell and rotted," she said.

Many believed Shipman killed himself as a last defiant stand, and because he enjoyed the feeling of control. Some of his victims' family members felt the suicide allowed him to maintain that power.

Everyone still has a story from the days before Shipman was known as Britain's most prolific killer. Yesterday, there was Amanda Booth, 37, waiting for the 204 bus to Manchester Piccadilly and remembering being a Shipman patient as a girl: "We never had a clue about the killing of course. My mother swore by him."

And across the road at Waterways Bathrooms, next door to Shipman's former surgery, Tim Peel, 20, was remembering cricket matches with the GP's eldest son. "I saw Dr Shipman when he came to watch him play," he said. "I did always think he seemed a bit strange. Let's hope this brings an end to the whole ghastly business."

That's what everyone seems to say. But Shipman is more obstinate than that and his legacy doesn't seem likely to end at a prison cell in Wakefield.

"The latest twist is the local nurse who wants compensation," says Mr Swann, who had found shelter under Hyde's empty market stalls, with their gaudy red and yellow roofs. "It seems a bit rich, before the victims have secured theirs. These problems don't seem to go away."