Shipman's widow says she had no idea her husband was a suicide risk

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The Independent Online

Primrose Shipman has appeared at the inquest into the death of her husband, Harold, and given an insight into the serial killer's mind in the weeks before he was found dead in his prison cell.

Primrose Shipman has appeared at the inquest into the death of her husband, Harold, and given an insight into the serial killer's mind in the weeks before he was found dead in his prison cell.

Giving evidence on the first day of the inquest at Leeds Crown Court, Mrs Shipman told that her husband had given no hint that he might kill himself, despite expressing "deep despair" in a prison diary.

Her barrister, James Sturman asked her: "Did he give you any indication about quite how low that diary reveals he was?"

She said he didn't. Mrs Shipman said she did not know the Prison Service viewed her husband as a "long-term suicide risk" and that "the Prison Service believed there was an increased risk leading up to birthdays, anniversaries and other significant events". Shipman died on the eve of his 58th birthday, on 13 January, last year.

She also revealed that she heard about his death from a radio bulletin. A statement made by Mrs Shipman to police shortly after her husband's death was read out in which she said: "In January 2004 I received news by telephone from one of my children, who was listening to the radio and heard my husband had been found hanging in my cell."

Mrs Shipman told the inquest that her husband's prison circumstances had changed in the six months before his death. He was transferred from Frankland Prison in County Durham to a tougher regime at Wakefield in June 2003. And weeks before he was found hanging in his cell his status and privileges had been reduced, meaning that he had lost his television and had to wear prison clothes.

Mrs Shipman said the only time she and her husband had discussed suicide was during time on remand at Manchester's Strangeways prison when, in a two-minute conversation, he rejected the idea and said if it crossed his mind "he would talk to me about it".

Mrs Shipman, who spoke quietly but confidently, told the West Yorkshire coroner, David Hinchliff, that she and her husband both knew that she would not lose her widow's pension if he died.

She also agreed with Mr Sturman that Shipman's diary had the "memorable line": "Telephone tapped, letters read, probably get away with this as the POs are so lazy." The barrister asked her if her husband was "fed-up with people trying to get inside his head".

"Oh yes," she replied.

Asked if this was partly because every time he opened up to someone, they sold their stories to the newspapers, she replied: "He didn't open up to anyone. They tended to make it up."

She also said her husband complained to her that the Wakefield regime was much harsher than Frankland's. Her husband had found it difficult to get on education courses but said he took part in a "spasmodic" English literature class as well as going to the gym.

Mr Sturman asked her if the doctor told her of any "ill-treatment at Wakefield". She said: "No. No ill-treatment." The coroner said he understood that Shipman had lost his privileges because he did not "interact particularly well" with prison officers. Mrs Shipman appeared irritated at this suggestion. "He was in prison, you don't always talk to prison officers," she said.

She said there was "nothing at all" to suggest he was suicidal in a letter from him on 12 January, nor in a phone conversation on the day before he was found dead.

The inquest was told that Shipman had been subject to "observations" during his time on the medical ward at Frankland jail, but was not on suicide watch at Wakefield. Mrs Shipman said her husband had not been comfortable being watched by a camera in his cell.

Mrs Shipman said she was unaware of a conversation that took place between her husband and a medical officer, in September 2000, in which he said that he was a humanist and there was "no religious consideration" in taking his life.

The inquest continues.