Shipman killed four members of employee's family

A receptionist who worked for Harold Shipman described to an inquiry yesterday how four members of her family, including her mother, were killed by the former GP.

Carol Chapman, who worked at the surgery in Market Street, Hyde, Greater Manchester, between August 1992 until December 2000, described the deaths at an inquiry into Shipman's murders.

Ms Chapman's mother, Nellie Bardsley, died in December 1987, three years after the death of her aunt, Mary Winterbottom, in September 1984. Her mother-in-law, Irene Chapman, died in March 1998, and her aunt Elsie Hannible died in July 1996.

Dame Janet Smith, chairing the inquiry, ruled last year that all four were unlawfully killed by Shipman.

Ms Chapman said she was "shocked" to hear of the death of her aunt, Elsie Hannible, from Shipman, who also told her that he had informed the dead woman's grandson. She said: "I asked how he had taken the news. Shipman told me that he was shocked and I remember remarking 'he was not the only one'." She said that Shipman had not told her how Mrs Hannible had died, but she did not feel there was any need to be suspicious.

Ms Chapman also told the inquiry she had made a joke about "finding dead bodies in examination rooms" being part of her job description as a way of "dealing with things". She said: "It may sound flippant but it was just our way of dealing with things at the surgery."She added: "If I had concerns that Shipman was killing his patients, then I would have reported the matter directly to the police. Even when there were lots of deaths, families all believed that Shipman had done his best for their loved ones."

Ms Chapman began to notice the numbers of deaths in 1998. "Eyebrows would be raised when somebody died but nobody said anything," she said. "It never entered my head that Shipman might be killing his patients."

Shipman, 57, was jailed for life at Preston Crown Court in 2000 for the murders of 15 patients. Last year the inquiry decided he had claimed the lives of at least 215 of his patients in West Yorkshire over a 23-year period.