Shipman may have killed three on the same night

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The serial killer Harold Shipman may have murdered three patients in the space of five hours at the beginning of his medical career, the public inquiry into the former GP's activities was told yesterday.

The two women and a man died in 1975 in disturbingly similar circumstances to those of the 15 female patients Shipman was convicted of killing in January last year. Each patient is believed to have received a visit from the family doctor on the day they died, the inquiry at Manchester Town Hall was told.

The three dead were registered at the Abraham Ormerod Medical Centre in Todmorden, West Yorkshire, where Shipman worked between March 1974 and September 1975. The cases are among 31 deaths being linked to Shipman, who was the on-call doctor at the Todmorden practice on 21 January, 1975.

According to a colleague, he had worked late and was always eager to assist with emergency call-outs. At 4.10pm that day he had filled out the death certificate of Elizabeth Pearce, 84, who suffered from osteoarthritis but had been in good spirits when visited by her granddaughter Ann Price a few hours earlier.

Christopher Melton QC, the senior counsel to the inquiry, said he had repeated the process a few hundred yards away at 7.30pm at the home of Robert Lingard, 62, having been at his bedside when he died. Shipman certified the cause of death as bronchitis and emphysema.

His last visit was less than an hour later. It is believed he was called out to 73-year-old Lily Crossley's house by family members who had become concerned about her deteriorating health. She had become agitated and seemed distressed.

As he left the house he told Mrs Crossley's sister-in-law, Margaret Gilyeat, that he had given her an injection and that it would calm her down. An hour later she was dead.