Shipman admits to changing records

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The family doctor accused of murdering 15 of his female patients yesterday admitted backdating computerised medical records for two of them but said he had good reason for that.

The family doctor accused of murdering 15 of his female patients yesterday admitted backdating computerised medical records for two of them but said he had good reason for that.

Dr Harold Shipman, questioned about the case of 49-year-old Bianka Pomfret, youngest of his alleged victims, said he needed a full, back-dated record in case he later referred patients to a consultant. "If you refer her ... you need to know the dates and since I handwrite referrals I often do them in front of my computer," he added.

The prosecution says Dr Shipman, of Hyde, Greater Manchester, falsely backdated records to cover his tracks after killing all 15 patients by lethal injection of diamorphine. But the 53-year-old GP, who denies murder, told the jury at Preston Crown Court that a full, back-dated record also enabled him to search his computer for details of which patients' treatments had worked. He said he knew other doctors who did the same.

In the case of one alleged victim, he had back-dated blood pressure details from jottings on a "small piece of paper". Dr Shipman said he had been aware since August 1993, that an audit trail could detect back-dating. "I'm on the national (computer) user group and the local user group and I knew there was an audit on the machine," he said.

Dr Shipman made three back-dated entries about Mrs Pomfret's chest pains after a house call on her on 10 December 1997. He laughed as he recalled Mrs Pomfret picking up her dog which was in his way as he tried to leave her house around 1pm that day. But he said he was "upset she hadn't trusted him enough to tell me about the [chest] pains" earlier. She was a "difficult" patient, he said, but she agreed to a heart scan. When Dr Shipman was called back to her home by 6pm on 10 December, he made a trace on her heart which showed her to be a "cert for death".

Mrs Pomfret had suffered manic depression and been suicidal before spending a year in psychiatric hospital and Dr Shipman listed this as a cause of death, along with angina and heart disease. "I felt she was not capable of appreciating the chest pain in comparison with somebody who was not a manic depressive," he said.

Dr Shipman rarely stumbled over his words as he had done on his first day in the witness box on Thursday, when he blamed his medication for his speech. But at times he struggled to enunciate medical terminology on a day of detailed medical evidence. He frequently explained abbreviations (such as NOS - no other symptoms) in his medical records. On one occasion he asked his counsel, Nicola Davies, QC: "Would you like me to translate it?"

He denied being abrupt with a neighbour of Winifred Mellor, 73, another alleged victim: the neighbour said he called her "stupid" after he called at Mrs Mellor's house. "I would hope I've not said that but I may have said you are being silly," he said.

He also thought he was "considerate" with Mrs Mellor's bereaved family after finding her dead hours after meeting her at his surgery. "I thought I gave them plenty of time to ask questions," he said. Ms Davies asked Dr Shipman if he had administered morphine to Mrs Pomfret, Mrs Mellor and 73-year-old Joan Melia, and if he had killed them. On each occasion, Dr Shipman replied, in a clear voice: "No I did not."

The trial continues.

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