Inquiry launched into Shipman hanging

Harold Shipman, Britain's worst serial killer, was found hanged in his cell yesterday.

He took to the grave the secrets of his murderous spree, which claimed at least 215 lives over 23 years. He had neither shown remorse nor confessed to the killings.

The Prison Service announced an inquiry into the apparent suicide amid anger from the relatives of his victims that the former GP had taken "the easy way out".

Jayne Gaskill from Hyde, Greater Manchester, whose 68-year-old mother Bertha Moss was killed by Shipman, said: "He has controlled us all the way through and he has controlled the last step and I hate him for it."

Thea Morgan, who lost her 90-year-old mother, Dorothea Renwick, said: "I want to see the end of him, but I think he should have stayed in his cell and rotted."

The body of Shipman, who would have been 58 today, was discovered at 6.20am hanging from the bars of his cell window at Wakefield Prison. He had pulled a curtain around himself before making a ligature from torn-up sheets.

Staff cut him down and tried to resuscitate him but he was pronounced dead two hours later. Shipman had briefly been on suicide watch at two jails earlier in his sentence but not since moving to Wakefield in June.

The Prison Service said he had been behaving "utterly normally" and had shown no sign of being suicidal. Shipman had applied for a visiting order for a social visit, thought to be for his wife, Primrose.

Stephen Shaw, the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman, will head the inquiry. Although there was no suggestion that failings in the prison system were to blame, the suicide is a fresh embarrassment for the service following the failed suicide attempt by the Soham murderer Ian Huntley last year.

Shipman was jailed for life four years ago for murdering 15 patients, but he is known to have murdered at least 200 more in Hyde and Todmorden, West Yorkshire.

The respected family doctor targeted middle-aged and elderly women patients, murdering many with injections of diamorphine. During Shipman's trial, the prosecution speculated that the motive for the killings could be that he enjoyed exercising the power of life and death.

Shipman was brought to justice after police were alerted to his "cack-handed" attempt to forge the £386,000 will of an 81-year-old victim, the former mayoress Kathleen Grundy.

A solicitor for Shipman's family, some of whom were at his widow's house in Walshford, near Wetherby, West Yorkshire yesterday, saidthat they would not comment.

Giovanni di Stefano, Shipman's solicitor, said that his client had been about to launch an appeal. "It is extremely strange, to put it mildly, that a person who at last is given a chance, not much of one, in getting an appeal off the ground would then suddenly kill himself," he said.