Shipman absent as first of 26 inquests begins

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The convicted murderer Harold Shipman declined to appear yesterday at an inquest to examine the apparently bizarre explanation he offered for the death seven years ago of yet another of his patients.

The convicted murderer Harold Shipman declined to appear yesterday at an inquest to examine the apparently bizarre explanation he offered for the death seven years ago of yet another of his patients.

In Tameside Magistrates' Court, three miles from Hyde in Greater Manchester, where he killed 15 patients, two wide-screen televisions had been installed for a video link with Shipman. The former GP was to have appeared in the monitors but they remained blank.

Shipman had not responded to three letters from the coroner inviting him to appear from Frankland Prison in County Durham. He is eight months into his 15 life sentences.

At the court in Ashton-under-Lyne, John Ashworth recalled was left to recount the explanation Shipman had offered for the sudden death of his widowed mother, Sarah Ashworth, when she was 74.

Mr Ashworth said he had received a telephone call minutes after her death on 17 April, 1993, in which Shipman said he had found Mrs Ashworth sitting on the sofa after she had called him complaining of severe illness. "As he was treating her on the bed she suddenly fell back in front of him and went out like a light," Mr Ashworth said.

Shipman did not call an ambulance or stay with his patient, but asked Mr Ashworth to deal with her. Mr Ashworth said he had been "a little bit hurt" that his mother had not called him about her illness. "If she was well enough to ring Dr Shipman, she would have been well enough to have rung me."

He said he was worried by a tear to the back of his mother's hand and by the absence of a postmortem, which Shipman had said was unnecessary.

The hearing, the first of 26 into deaths among Shipman'spatients, continues today.

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