Loyal and faithful to the end: Primrose supported her childhood sweetheart

She was the last person to telephone him and his plea with the prison authorities to permit a birthday visit from her today was one of the last tasks to occupy his mind. To the very end, Harold Shipman could not disguise his dependence on his 54-year-old wife Primrose.

They met just after he had started studying at Leeds University Medical School in 1965. He was in lodgings in nearby Wetherby and they travelled on the same bus up to Leeds, where she - farmer's daughter Primrose Oxtoby - was working as a window dresser in a department store. She became pregnant and the couple were married during Shipman's first year at university.

She never lost admiration and faith for him. After he had injected pethedine for six months to the point where his veins collapsed, she acted as his driver. In Hyde, she was his part-time receptionist as well as mother to their four children - Christopher, 32, Sarah, 36, David, 24 and Samuel, 20, who all live away from home.

She attended every day of his trial and has made weekly visits to Wakefield Prison, where some reports suggest that the couple would hold hands, kiss and appear not to have a care in the world.

Mrs Shipman had moved around Yorkshire five times since her husband's conviction, before arriving 18 months ago at her current home, up a narrow lane alongside the busy A1 at Walshford, North Yorkshire. She wanted to be close to her sister who was being looked after in a home close by in Wetherby.

Yesterday, Mrs Shipman stayed behind closed doors and drawn curtains there. The only sign that she was inside the rundown cottage, with its unkempt and rubbish-strewn garden, was the occasional twitch of the curtains.

Little more than three hours after news that his father had died, Christopher arrived to comfort his mother. After driving up, he clashed with waiting photographers, after telling journalists: "Let me make it very clear, there will be no comment here today."

Shortly after lunchtime another of Shipman's sons, believed to be David, arrived at the house but went in without comment.

Though police want to interview Mrs Shipman about her last telephone conversation with her husband, there is no evidence that she will cooperate. Her only public comment on the case came in the two hours of taciturn evidence that she was forced to give to the Shipman inquiry two years ago, after being granted immunity from prosecution.

It demonstrated that she was as convinced of her husband's innocence as he was. She told the inquiry that she believed he was not guilty and when asked was she doing all she could to help solicitors to bring an appeal, she replied forcefully: "Yes."

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