Britain's worst serial killer Harold Shipman hanged himself today with bed sheets in his prison cell.
The Prison Service said Shipman, aged 57, believed to be responsible for more than 215 murders, was found at 6.20am hanging from window bars and hidden behind a curtain, in Wakefield Prison.
The former GP was jailed for life at Preston Crown Court in January 2000 for murdering 15 patients while working in Hyde, Greater Manchester.
But he takes with him to the grave the secrets of the murder campaign he carried out over a 23-year period in Hyde and Todmorden, West Yorkshire.
Dame Janet Smith, who headed an inquiry into his killings, reported in 2002 that she believed Shipman had killed 215 patients and there was a "real suspicion" over another 45.
Prison staff attempted to resuscitate Shipman - who would have been 58 tomorrow - when he was found in his cell but he was pronounced dead by a doctor at 8.10am, a Prison Service spokeswoman said.
Shipman had been on suicide watch during his spells at HMP Manchester and at HMP Frankland, but not at Wakefield since his arrival on June 18 last year. A spokeswoman said: "He was showing no signs whatsoever of pre-suicidal behaviour at all.
"He was behaving utterly normally. He was working as normal and doing education as normal.
"There was absolutely no indication that this was coming and he was giving no cause for concern."
Brian Caton, general secretary of the Prison Officers Association, said the serial killer was checked in his single cell frequently through the night and was alive and well at 5am.
But, at the 6am check, Mr Caton said: "He'd hung himself from a ligature, thought to be strips of bedding, and had held the curtains around himself so no one could see him."
He said Shipman was "one of many category A prisoners" in the wing, adding: "Whilst it's a loss of a human life, it's a loss of one of the vilest humans in the country."
An investigation into the death will be carried out by the Prisons and Probations Ombudsman Stephen Shaw, who takes over full responsibility for such inquiries soon.
Last month it emerged that the serial killer had been stripped of his privileges at Wakefield because of poor behaviour.
He had his prisoner status reduced from "enhanced" to "basic" for general non-compliance with staff, a prison source said.
The television in his cell was removed and he had to wear prison uniform instead of casual clothes.
For years Shipman waged a killing spree - described by a judge as "shocking beyond belief" - among his unsuspecting middle-aged and elderly women patients, murdering many with deadly diamorphine injections.
The doctor, who ran a one-man practice, was given 15 life sentences after being found guilty at the end of a trial lasting nearly four months.
He was brought to justice after a bungled attempt to forge the £386,000 will of one of his victims, an 81-year-old former mayoress of Hyde, wealthy widow Kathleen Grundy.
Relatives of Shipman's victims said today he would not be missed. Kathleen Wood, whose 83-year-old mother Bessie Baddeley died in 1997, said: "I am not sorry he has gone, but it brings it all back and it stirs it all up for us again.
"I just wish he had been forthcoming and admitted he had done those things - it would have put a lot of people's minds at rest.
"He won't be missed. I have got friends whose relatives were in the same position as my mother and they are not sorry either."Reuse content