Nurse convicted of murdering four patients

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The Independent Online

A staff nurse was today convicted of murdering four frail patients by giving them overdoses of the diabetes drug insulin.

Colin Norris, 32, from Egilsay Terrace, Glasgow, who once said he disliked caring for "geriatric patients", killed the elderly women and tried to murder another while he worked at two Leeds hospitals in 2002.

The trial at Newcastle Crown Court, which started in mid-October, heard that suspicions were raised when Norris predicted the death of one woman, who slipped into a fatal hypoglycaemic coma later in his shift.

West Yorkshire Police looked into other earlier deaths while he was working at Leeds General Infirmary and the city's St James's Hospital. They found three other women, none of whom were diabetics, had died from insulin overdoses.

Norris was convicted of the charges by an 11-1 majority on the fourth day of deliberations.

One of his victims, 86-year-old Ethel Hall from Calverley in Leeds, was admitted to the LGI in November 2002 after she broke her hip in a fall.

She had an operation and staff believed she was recovering reasonably well.

A few days later, however, she slipped into a hypoglycaemic coma and suffered irreversible brain damage, while Norris was her nurse.

Police were called in to investigate after a blood sample test showed around 12 times the normal level of insulin in Mrs Hall's blood.

She died on December 11, 2002 and Norris emerged as a possible suspect.

Officers checked medical records at the LGI and St James's, where he also worked, and discovered that another three elderly women had slipped into hypoglycaemic comas and died while under Norris's care, between June and October 2002.

They were Doris Ludlam, 80, from Pudsey in West Yorkshire, Bridget Bourke, 88, from Holbeck, Leeds, and Irene Crookes, 79, from Leeds.

Norris was also convicted of the attempted murder of Vera Wilby, 90, from Rawdon in Leeds, who recovered from an unexpected hypoglycaemic attack in 2002.

West Yorkshire Police said that during their investigation over 7,000 statements had been taken and over 3,000 exhibits seized.

Norris was interviewed several times over two-and-a-half years as police built up the case.

He was arrested on December 11, 2002, but released on bail pending further inquiries. His employers, the Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, suspended him the following day.

He was eventually charged with the four murders and one attempted murder on October 12, 2005.

Prosecutor Robert Smith QC told the jury there were "remarkably common facts" between Norris's five victims, who had all undergone surgery for hip fractures.

Each was in poor health and could be regarded as a "burden to nursing staff", Mr Smith said. Each suffered from hypoglycaemia between four and 12 days after surgery.

"Colin Norris deliberately administered these drugs to these five women.

"He did so intending to kill them," Mr Smith added.

While training, Mr Smith said, Norris had indicated he did not like looking after "geriatric patients".

Mr Smith also told the court Norris predicted to a colleague the time at which Ethel Hall would die and said that someone always died on his shifts.

But Norris told the court that this was a joke and that as a nurse you "laugh about things you probably shouldn't laugh about".

Throughout the case he denied all the charges.

Norris will be sentenced tomorrow morning. He did not react when the jury foreman read out the verdicts, and did not look up when he was led away from the dock.

Mr Justice Griffith Williams told the court: "I have to consider the minimum term which the defendant will have to serve."

The judge praised the jury of eight men and four women for their careful deliberation and concentration during the 19-week trial.

"I am very grateful for the great care and attention you paid to this case," he said.

"It has been a very long case and I am conscious of the fact it has caused a lot of inconvenience to some of you."

He offered the panel a 30-year exclusion from jury service.

The judge asked the prosecution whether there would be statements from the victims' families.

Robert Smith QC, prosecuting, said that the patients' age, and the delay since their murders, meant that in most cases there were few surviving relatives.

Speaking outside the court after the verdict, Detective Chief Superintendent Chris Gregg said if it was not for the actions of Dr Emma Ward, who investigated after Ethel Hall's death, more patients could have died.

He described Norris as an "extremely arrogant individual" who was "looking for opportunities to kill" and said he faced a lengthy prison sentence.

Mr Gregg said: "What has shone throughout this investigation and trial is the absolute dedication of nursing and medical professionals. Colin Norris is an exception to that. Whilst others around him were duly caring for patients, he was looking for opportunities to kill by poisoning them with insulin.

"He has presented himself to police during interview and the court during the trial as an extremely arrogant individual who has not shown the slightest degree of remorse or emotion for what he has done.

"Why he chose to do what he did is only known to him, but it is clear that all his victims were frail, elderly ladies who were vulnerable in his care.

"Norris is not only a dangerous criminal but cunning in his actions, choosing times to commit his crimes carefully, being either early in the morning or at weekends when he knew senior and specialist staffs were not routinely on duty.

"The Leeds Teaching Hospitals Trust have been extremely supportive during our investigation and were it not for the prompt actions of one doctor, Dr Emma Ward, following the unexplained coma that beset Ethel Hall, then I am convinced that other people would have lost their lives at his hands.

"Within a six-month period Norris murdered four women and attempted to murder another. His confidence was growing to such an extent he clearly felt he could kill with impunity."

Mr Gregg said his thoughts were with the victims' families who did not know what to expect after the lengthy investigation.

He said: "It has been a complex medical investigation and circumstantial evidence has brought this man to a guilty verdict today.

"There hasn't been the hard evidence, you know, where a witness has seen this man with a syringe going under the bedcovers and literally injecting anybody. It hasn't been as clear cut as that but it does now mean a degree of closure. The families concerned can now move forward from a terrible episode in their lives."

Mr Gregg said police examined all the deaths which happened on ward 36, and other wards where Norris worked, and looked particularly at three other deaths.

"Two of those we have looked at and came to the conclusion that they were clinically explainable.

"One of the deaths was sent to the Crown Prosecution Service and it didn't form part of this prosecution."

Asked about the similarities between Norris and Harold Shipman, Mr Gregg said: "These are two people who were killing patients in their care and nobody really knows what motivated Shipman, much the same as we don't know what motivated Colin Norris."